Sorry to go on about the weather but we’re British, it’s our perogative. July has been crapioso here in Blighty – it’s rained nearly every day. No wonder we’ve been driven to drink…
Douglas Ankrah is something of a legend on the cocktail circuit. Thanks to him London in the 1990s was a much more glamorous place. He was the man behind The Townhouse and The Lab bars not to mention the creator of the Porn Star Martini, a three-part drink that took cocktail making and drinking to a whole new level. We couldn’t wait to check out his latest venture, a fashionably transient ‘pop-up’ affair called the Opera Quarter Bar in Covent Garden. Launch night and the place was packed. Each of the rooms have a deliciously faded elegant air about them, making the OQB a smart choice for style-conscious drinkers. Curators Watch This Space enhance the boho feel with carefully chosen art, Hi Sushi add Asian flavour to the food menu, all manner of indie bands take a turn spinning tunes on the decks while Ankrah and his team get busy behind the bar. We stayed long enough for a couple of Porn Stars each (the drinks, not your actual rent-a-bod types), resolving to return for much more planned fun before close on 10 August.
We’ve been to Cocoon a few times before but somehow it managed to slip off our radar. No more. Although we were booked in for dinner (a fabulous fusion of Pan-Asian food – not cheap but worth it for a treat), we took the opportunity to sample one or two of the plentiful cocktails. There’s no getting away from the Oriental theme which is no bad thing when the balance of flavours are as good as they are here. Highly recommended is the Celery & Passion Martini, closely followed by the Asian Mojito reworked with sake instead of rum.
A few days later we left London behind and headed to Champagne. Man, did we work our way through those bubbles. We started our day at the Comite Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (C.I.V.C) which looks after the 280 Champagne houses and myriad growers in the region. Sounds like fun but trust us, there’s a whole heap of work that goes into keeping everybody in the chain happy. It was fascinating hearing all the stats. We won’t wax on about it in too much detail right now but here’s a little taster: there are 20,000 growers in the 319 wine producing villages. Each grower owns on average two hectares of land and one hectare produces approximately 10,000 bottles. By the end of our two day visit we felt like we’d sampled the fruits of most of their vines. Seriously. As well as the C.I.V.C, we visited LeClerc Briant, a smallish family-owned house producing amazing bio-dynamic Champagne; we did a tour of the slick Veuve Clicquot operation, and we learned all about the history and heritage of the medium-sized Villa Demoiselle. Everywhere we went we sampled at least three glasses in an attempt to tune our palates into the distinctive characteristics of each of the three grape varieties that go into making Champagne. And that doesn’t include what we had during lunch. Or dinner. Oh dear… While we’re far from being experts, our sojourn taught us a great deal about the art of making and appreciating this king of drinks. The Cocktail Lovers Guide To Champagne coming soon.
We missed Albert & Pearl’s first birthday party but our invitation prompted us to the fact that we were well overdue a visit. So off we trotted to Islington only to find that our visit coincided with a private Burlesque Evening. We could have been peeved but actually, we thought it rather fitting. The saloon-like interior works perfectly for these kind of shenanigans and in any case, we stayed long enough to have a good old chat with the barman as he mixed us some mighty fine cocktails.
Our next adventure saw us standing in the urban oasis that is the garden at Saf in Old Street. We’re huge fans of this botanic experience anyway but we’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker with its latest addition. We were invited to see Joe McCanta’s Greenhouse Bar, an idea which came to life after he won the Grey Goose Dream Bar competition. With its stunningly fresh cocktails made using ingredients picked from the garden, this looks set to be one of the coolest spots to imbibe this summer. And don’t worry about the weather, there’s a retractable roof and heaters in the garden. Bliss!
We’ve been meaning to spend some quality time in the Donovan Bar at Brown’s for quite a while. The last time we sat in this super stylish bar, we only had time for one drink. This month we did it properly, allowing ourselves plenty of time before dinner at Hix At The Albemarle. (Tip: if you’re looking for best of British dining, this is your baby). Our delicious cocktails, delicate amuse bouches and nibbles set us up for our food just nicely.
What else? Ah yes, we met with silky smooth Ian Burrell, UK Rum Ambassador and now the spokesman for The Rum Experience. Well, it makes perfect sense… The launch took place on a boat on the Thames, followed by an exclusive party at The London Cocktail Club while the event itself takes place at the Royal Horticultural Halls on 24-25 October.
On to the lofty heights of Paramount Club where we drank in the views over London as we enjoyed a selection of superior alcoholic concoctions. The cocktail menu is surprisingly short but the capable bar staff are more than happy to mix off menu. Mr G went down the classic route with a martini and a Vesper while Ms S tried the Paramount and a smashing version of Jerry Thomas’s Clover Club. Marvellous stuff: expertly mixed drinks in what must be one of London’s most impressive settings.
On Our Radar:
…We met briefly with Sam Galsworthy, co-founder of Sipsmith, makers of London’s newest and smartest premium gin and vodkas. Trust us, this company is going to be huge, which is why we’re going down to their distillery in the next few weeks before they get too big to talk to us…
…We’re loving the new, limited-edition Tanqueray No. Ten gift set designed by Lara Bohinc, great value at £99 for two fabulously crystal martini glasses and a bottle of Tanq 10. Available at Harvey Nichols.
Words to the wise (or just plain curious)
“Let us candidly admit that there are shameful blemishes on the American past, of which the worst by far is rum. Nevertheless, we have improved man’s lot and enriched his civilization with rye, bourbon and the Martini cocktail. In all history has any other nation done so much?”
Bernard De Voto (1897-1955) American writer and critic.