Head Here If… You like the idea of fab cocktails in an English Eccentric’s front parlour
If you like Tony Conigliaro’s winning ways with drink alchemy, you’ll love his latest venture, a delicious bar in one of the most desirable and dotty town houses in London…
First Things First
Picture if you will the front parlour of someone’s mad but very loveable maiden aunt – let’s call her Wilhelmina. Add to it more ornaments than you can shake a stick at, we’re talking Victoriana at its most prolific including china poodles, potted aspadistras, oversized barley twist columns, curios on every available surface and the workings of a taxidermist on a mission. Even the background music is English eccentric – ranging from fairground carousel stylee one minute, jumping to 1960s cheese the next. Then imagine amongst all of this eclecticism she’s had the foresight to install a bar. Not any old bar mind, but one presided over by London’s most innovative drinksmeister, Mr Tony Conigliaro. You see our Wilhelmina isn’t as dotty as she initially seems. Not only does she like ‘a drop’, but she’s insistent that the tipples served in her company are the very best around.
Of the 13 cocktails on the menu Simon our attentive barman recommends the Nettle Gimlet as the ZTH signature drink (Beefeater gin, homemade nettle cordial). Who would have thought that two ingredients could have such an impact in a glass? This gorgeous drink, served nice and icy cold by the way, is a variation on the classic gimlet but instead of your bog standard Rose’s Lime cordial Mr C has created a rather spiffing, very English version based on nettles. It’s fabulous; extremely moreish – sweet but in a most agreeable way leaving the Beefeater lingering on just nicely.
When it comes to the Martini “The house style is wet” Simon informs Mr G, who normally prefers his on the dry side. But if that’s how Mr Conigliaro is recommending his then that’s the way to go. The classic here is called the Koln Martini (Beefeater gin, vermouth, homemade citrus aromatics) and looks very simple – classic coupe glass and no garnish. But then there is a bit of theatre in the offing. A small brown, medicinal style bottle, complete with pipette, is produced and just two tiny drops of the aromatics are carefully dispensed into the drink. The effect is huge. The aroma has hints of bergamot and lavender, while the taste offers up lemon and grapefruit. Somehow it manages to be subtle yet profound and perfectly balanced – it’s no surprise that Tony C studied perfume. It has a tremendous depth of flavour, some sweetness and a pleasingly long, clean, dry finish. This is both a delicious and wonderfully original martini.
Ms S zones in on The Master At Arms (Myers rum, port reduction, homemade grenadine). It sounds pretty masculine but there’s something about the rum and port combo that sounds too good to pass by. From the minute the glass is put in front of her, she knows she’s made the right choice. That’s confirmed by the deep ruby colour of the drink, plus the nice little touch of cord threaded around the stem of the glass to signify Wilhelmina’s naughty adventures at sea. The blending of rum and port mingle together nicely to create a stunning concoction warming from the throat right down to the stomach, leaving a most satisfying glow. In fact, it goes down so well and feels so good, it should be prescribed on the NHS as a much needed tonic.
Sometimes the ingredients that go into making a cocktail sound so eclectic and promising that the drink in question just has to be ordered. So next up for Mr G is The Flintlock (Beefeater 24, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, dandelion & burdock bitters, Fernet Branca). It looks almost quaint in a small and neat tumbler, with a reassuring golden hue. There’s very little aroma but there is a lovely fullness of flavour, which is nicely rounded in the mouth, with some sweetness, some smokiness and the Fernet Branca used in just the right sparing fashion. The finish is both sweet and alcoholic with those flavours lingering on appealingly like the company of good friends. Gorgeous.
And To Eat?
Choose from simple nibbles including thin baguette and butter (£2.25), house dhukka and foccacia dip (£5) and sardines on toast (£4.50), or go for the assorted charcuterie and pickles boards featuring Serrano ham DOP (£7.50); duck and pork rillettes (£6), pate de Campagne (£6) or a selection (£10).
What’s The Damage
House cocktails are £8.50 each, all other cocktails £9.50. Not bad on paper but the cocktail glasses although extremely elegant are on the titchy side.
Look Out For
The main thing to look out for is the powder blue door on St. John’s Square. Once inside, check out the fascinating selection of nick-nacks and the portrait of Wilhelmina. If you’re lucky enough to be staying in one of the 13 rooms, don’t leave without sampling Tony C’s pre-mixed cocktails available in the mini bar – well worth checking in for alone.
Ms S says:
I love the careful styling that’s gone into making ZTH look like it hasn’t been styled at all, it makes for a homely but super-smart destination bar. Although there’s hardly a spot left free for breathing space, it’s the kind of bar you just want to kick back and enjoy the company of friends and the Wilhelmina thing adds a nice dose of eccentricity and authenticity. The heavy textiles, rich palette and working fire make this the perfect bar to hunker down in for the entire winter but the drinks will draw you in at any time of year.
Mr G says:
Wonderfully mismatched furniture, lots of lovely, odd artworks, crazy original newspapers on the stairwell walls – every direction you look you get an eyeful of something beautifully mad. Somehow ZTH also manages to feel reassuringly traditional and kind of cozy, while also being contemporary – a feeling that comes through most importantly of all in one very, very amazing cocktail list.
St. John’s Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ. T: 020 7324 4401 thezettertownhouse.com