As there are so many top mixologists plying their trade in London and so many diverse bars with contrasting atmospheres, an evening of cocktail tasting is a fun way to celebrate a special occasion or simply enjoy a night ‘on the town.’
When George Youssef, manager of Brumus Bar at the Haymarket Hotel, said he’d make what he termed ‘a dirty bathtub gin,’ the offer didn’t sound too attractive. But when it arrived, as a generous amount of liquor in a miniature white bath with a light layer of foam on top, it made an extremely pretty picture. The foam – who takes baths without it? – was created from frothy egg white while the ‘dirty’ aspect to the drink was the result of several drops of Blue Curacao. An infusion of lavender and lemongrass added a refreshing floral twist. If you want to surprise your friends, this will do the trick.
Youssef is a former stage performer and his enthusiasm and showmanship makes for an entertaining evening. His sense of creativity is reflected in the innovative nature of the cocktail menu, which includes a ‘Barbecued Daquiri,’ served inside a miniature barbecue with a grilled caramelized peach and an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ blend of American rye whiskey with crushed pineapple, cherry liquor and vanilla. His ‘Cottage Garden’ for the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show is a mix of jasmine gin, rose petal syrup and St. Germain elderflower, topped off with a dash of soda water, decorated with borage.
Claiming number one bar on the planet at Drinks International’s World’s 50 Best Bars Awards last year ahead of New York’s Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, the trendy ‘Artesian’ at ‘The Langham’ hotel, is well worth a visit. Named after a 360-foot deep well under the property, the bar, designed by the late David Collins, is ornately finished with jeweled mirror paneling, crocodile leather-covered furniture in vivid purple and blue.
Cocktails combine innovation with appreciation of the classics with surrealism a creative role in presentation. Playing on Dali’s obsession with ants, ‘Join the Colony’ is a quirky cocktail served in a giant copper replica of the tiny creature. Starting with a granola base combining fruity, savory and sweet flavors, guests are asked to pour a white, milk-like liquid made from Absolut Elyx, wheat, almond, juniper and bergamot onto the granola in a twist on breakfast cereal. In contrast, ‘Chameleon Crystal’ is housed in a mysterious ornate box. When guests open it, smoke rises, revealing a fusion of Tanqueray 10, pisco, chilli and soy inside.
The ‘Crystal Bar’ at The Wellesley hotel on Knightsbridge also offers an intriguing cocktail menu, with a choice of indoor at-bar seating or on a quiet terrace out front featuring black leather-studded armchairs. A special section of the menu is headed ‘From the ‘20s Collection,’ explained as ‘traditional recipes from the Speak Easy era’ in the US.
Classics such as Harvey Wallbanger, White Russian and Planters Punch are featured, as well as a potent daiquiri named after a well-known Nobel prize winning writer who is reputed to have consumed 16 of this particular cocktail in a single sitting – Ernest Hemingway. With London being a key international business, banking and stock-market center, one imaginative martini offered at the Wellesley seems most appropriate – the ‘Income Tax’ cocktail – consisting of London dry gin, sweet and dry vermouth, orange juice and Angostura bitter.
The Wellesley’s signature martini has a twist of pomelo in a duet of Belevedere vodka and dry vermouth infused with several bitters and absinthe.
The ‘Amaranto’ bar, named after the flowering plant, located at the Four Seasons Hotel on Park Lane evokes the atmosphere of a sophisticated wine bar in a cellar-like environment with red velvet armchairs and wood-paneled walls, dim light and floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with various vintages.
Its cocktail menu is extensive, featuring all the classics but also what is termed ‘seasonal collections’ including some reflecting different continents and others inspired by the hotel’s own garden.
‘Amaranto Manhattan’ is a must for curious Bourbon lovers – walnut, coffee and cinnamon infused Bourbon combined with Amaranto’s own blend of six different vermouths and bitters. For gin lovers, there’s ‘Grape & Sage’ – Hendrick’s blended with fresh grapes and sage, lime, Champagne and St-Germaine elderflower liqueur.
45 Park Lane hotel, near Hyde Park Corner, attracts a lively, trendy crowd, especially at weekends, when its upstairs cocktail bar, Bar 45, does a roaring trade.
Among mIxologist Maurizio Palermo’s best creations are ‘Smoke and Mirrors,’ Scotch infused with lapsang souchong plus Drambuie and sweet & sour mix, as well as ‘Peace on Earth,’ an exotic mix of three kinds of infused rums with pineapple and coconut syrup. Such signature drinks are available throughout the Dorchester Collection of hotels.