#monthoffree

Unexpectedly, I have obtained a lot for not very much this month. Rather than bore you with several overly-adjectivised posts, here is a brief run-down of my swag:

 

24th April – two free tickets to Chivas Regal Open Row

  • Won via a Facebook competition, tickets (RRP £15) included two free cocktails, a tour of Savile Row’s dressmaking rooms, historic collections, cocktail masterclasses (albeit for a raspberry mule).  My highlight was a tasting of Chivas Regal’s collection of blended malts – 12, 18, and 25yrs.  The 18 was my favourite; smooth enough to hold in the mouth, yet intense enough to be interesting.

30th May – Mezcal tastings and supersized cocktails at El Nivel

  •  Obtained by sitting at the bar and criticising other establishments.  Full review here.

1st May – Pulled Pork and Burned Bits at Bodeans, Balham

  •   Thanks to being hawk-eyed and finding a 20% voucher prior to the branch’s opening.  Pulled pork is no longer a new phenomenon, and Bodeans is already one of the cheaper eateries with a good reputation, but the glee of finding something reasonable and not overly “young professional” (I mean, it’s basically Tooting) was welcome.  Pitfall: Their drinks are very good, so it’s easy to accidentally spend £40 on them while aiming for a cheap night out.

2nd May – Free cocktail at Coco Momo, Marylebone

  • Through being a member of their mailing list and taking advantage of a “Free cocktails due to the tube strike” offer”.  Their Coco Berry Julep was remarkably strong (tbh the whiskey should have been stirred in rather than poured over), which was a pleasant surprise when compared to the watered-down offerings you get at London Cocktail Week.

10th May – free brunch for two at Jackson & Rye

  • Won through a twitter competition.  Online reviews for this place were mixed but our experience was nothing but flawless.  The offer entitles you to £40 worth of food, and we had the Angler’s breakfast, Avocado Benedict, Pancakes, two rounds of coffees and health juices with more than £7 to spare.  Our waiter, an attentive but not intrusive francophone, made the whole experience incredibly pleasant.

17th May – Free champagne and snacks at Rivea, Bulgari Hotels & Residences, Knightsbridge

  • Found via a newsletter.  Inspired by the French and Italian seafront, Rivea offers tapas style small plates with a largely seafood and nut base.  Samples of what we ate are below.  While the recommendation is to have 4-5 plates, we were full with 2-3 (including our free tasting of the Rivea salad – similar to a nicoise) but couldn’t help trying the Thin gianduja palet (a light and satisfying chocolate and hazelnut praline) for dessert alongside a couple of cocktails (The Conqueror and Cherry and Pistachio Bellini, pictured).  Being of seaside heritage, we were impressed by the tenderness and flavours of the octopus, red mullet, and sea bream dishes.  The bill came to £83 including service despite our freebies, but given that this is an Alain Ducasse restaurant, the damage could have been a lot worse.

Elsewhere this month:

City Social – Sincerely beautiful view of London, with a very classic black and gold decor (even the toilets have floor to ceiling windows with 30s style beauty stations).  The bartenders know their stuff, even when ordering off menu.  However, I fear its location will cause it to degrade over time due to the prevailing clientele.  Get in to try the goats cheese churros before this happens!

Q Grill – We ordered unconventionally here, choosing one of every starter with a pair of cocktails.  Everything from the asparagus tips to the steak tartare was moreish.  Despite eating with abandon, we managed to stay low carb (diet points) and come away with a bill – after drinks and service – for £35 each.

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The Lost Angel Battersea – Fantastic roasts and Proper Cocktails for a fiver, Sundays here are fast becoming a favourite

Grain Store – From the people that brought you the irreplaceable Zetter Townhouse, it’s refreshing to see a menu that cares as much about its vegetarian clientele than the rest.  The cocktails are as adventurous as at ZTH (mustard martini and green tomato margarita) but the service can either over or underwhelm

The Black Heart  – Metal music and really well made Old Fashioneds in a laid-back bar…in Camden, unfortunately.

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El Nivel

The only spirit that has a tendency to turn my stomach is tequila.  For years I have assumed that involuntarily, outside of a margarita, if I drink tequila I will meet a messy end.  However, after experiencing the tequila con verdura at Casita bar’s charms to my mouth and stomach (it’s a shot, no less!), I somewhat reluctantly joined The Hoodooist for the opening of El Nivel, a new mescaleria venue from the cheap and cheerful CafePacifico/LaPerla franchise.

On the second day of opening, we were in good company. The bar’s owner was there along with the movers and shakers from nearby bars (some of whom we could forgive for choosing this place over their own terrible establishments) and some of the best bartenders in town.  Indeed, nearby places such as Megaro Bar and NOLA had donated bottles to the opening, so this was certainly the bartender’s bar.

But the Hoodoo and I never go out to socialise, we go to drink.  First on the menu were the Mezcal fix and Fallen Angel.

Mezcal Fix 

QuiQuiRiQui mezcal, roasted pineapple syrup, fresh lime, Cynar and saltwater spray.

Fallen Angel 

Gran Centenario Añejo, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Cynar. A heavenly twist on the Sweet Manhattan.

Pineapple balanced the smokiness of the Mezcal Fix, with saltwater adding an interesting aftertaste to Cynar’s of-the-moment savoury aroma.  As for the Fallen Angel? As someone who dislikes tequila but adores Manhattans, this was a delightfully deceptive drink.

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Elsewhere on the menu, the most tentative experimenters in spirits from this part of the world may want to try the citrus-based Siesta – long enough to not be dangerous but with flavours that enhance the delicacy of tequila, and the Horchata, a boozy version of a traditional Mexican (and somewhere in my archives tells me Mauritian) beverage.

Sit at the bar, and if you prove you know your stuff the bartender may even give you an ad-hoc Mezcal tasting on the house.  We hear spirit flights are being planned for the future, and will be returning to learn more about this long-neglected spirit.

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Liberté! Egalité! Cabaret! – A fundraising event from The Queer Alternative

The Queer Alternative presents a night of music, comedy and cabaret with stand-up comedy from Andrew O’Neill, riotously catchy rock from The Priscillas, and London Cabaret Awards winner Benjamin Louche.

 

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Who: An award-winning line-up including EastEnd Cabaret, The Priscillas (B-movie power pop-rock band), Andrew O’Neill (Occult Comedian), Benjamin Louche (Lynchian daymare), Blanche DuBois (draglesque), Nathan Evans (performing artist), Preacher Muad’dib (record-breaking stuntman), Andromada Mystic (burlesque), Cola Falquero (drag artist), Allouetta La Zouch (gorelesque), Sabella (bellydancing), Tim Bishop (stand-up), Alex Shutler and Psyche (singer and pianist), and Ashleigh Loeb (compere/drama queen).

Music between the acts will be provided by DJs Frank Flag (Stripped), AndyRavenSable (Rivet) and Scott (Alternative Bring and Buy Sale).

What: Music, dance, burlesque and comedy with a queer sensibility that steps outside comfortable cliches. A raffle will also be held with prizes including a tickets to top alternative events including Alt-Fest, The Double R Club, DVDs and more.

Where: Elixir Bar, 162 Eversholt Street, NW1 1BL, London, UK

When:  Sunday 1st June 2014 18:00 to 23:00

Admission: Previous events have attracted a varied but friendly cross-section of goths, punks, metalheads, rivetheads and other counter-culturists. While many regulars fall into the LGBTQ+ spectrum, the events also attract straight and label-defying allies.

Tickets: £10 in advance from http://www.wegottickets.com/event/268639

About The Queer Alternative
The Queer Alternative began life in 2009 as a London LGBT+ Pride walking group. Their primary goal is to increase awareness and acceptance of queer people within the goth, metal and alternative scenes and raise the visibility of alternative people within mainstream gay culture. TQA aims to provide a safe space, both online and at events, for members of these subcultures to meet, network and share their passions. This year marks TQA’s first forray into event promotion outside Pride week, with the cabaret’s proceeds going towards a community float entry and after-party for this year’s Pride in London parade on 28th June 2014.


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Bufala Negra and Transmetropolitan

I am bored.  Let’s put things in a glass.

 

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I got the Bufala Negra off a website because I wanted to DIY with balsalmic.  It’s OK, but a bit flat for all the ingredients.  I used Buffalo Trace and dry basil – perhaps it would taste different if I used fresh basil and a drier whiskey (although this drink was dry enough).  I’d like to try a version with tomato juice instead of ginger ale and perhaps a Pisco base.

The Transmetropolitan is my own thing inspired by The Queer Alternative‘s upcoming event Liberté! Egalité! Cabaret!.  I’ve tried to make a stereotypically gendered drink queer and add an extra element to make this less binary. Sazerac Rye + Cointreau + Cranberry Juice + celery bitters.  It works very well, evoking both drinks simultaneously.  You only need one dash of celery bitters, else it becomes too overpowering, but it adds an extra dimension.  Still, I should have something in my cupboard to bring the mystery third element in better.  Ginger liqueur? Something spicy?  Something sweet?  Port reduction?

 

I need a bigger bar.

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Three Things: Drinking and Dining at the Rosewood Hotel

Until recently Holborn had been something of a non-place between Covent Garden and Bloomsbury; well connected, but not really a destination.  Puzzling, as it has indie theatres, a burgeoning academic and media population, and served as the starting point for new fast-food outlets such as Kimchee.  The Rosewood Hotel, newly opened, is set to change all of that.

It features three recreational spaces (so far), each with their own unique edge, each offering something different without any room feeling like a second/third fiddle to the others.

Holborn Dining Room

+ seamless service, from the door staff, to the very knowledgeable bar staff, to the self-deprecating waiters

+ a varied and reasonably priced menu.  Does one of your party want a steak, while the other wants an antipasti platter, and another wants a cake and coffee?  No problem!  The house red is gluggable yet not forgettable (a herault)

+ the cocktail list is short, but while sitting at the bar waiting for my friend, I got chatting to the bar staff and it quickly became clear that they were confident enough to create anything off-menu to spec.  Which at £8-10 a drink is worth the risk.

- the selection for vegetarians is slim; a salad, a soup, a tart, and a risotto.  Not terribly inspiring.

Scarfes Bar (controversial thusfar among the bigger reviewers)

+ Beautiful surroundings, reminiscent of The Zetter Townhouse’s older, more conservative brother

+ Attentive francophone staff with a sense of humour, very personal service

- the quality: price ratio of the drinks is a bit disappointing having come from HDR.  The menu is more adventurous but about 30% more, and the two drinks we had were long and fluffy, but not really *interesting*.

All in all, perhaps best suited for a coffee date, or tapping away at your laptop/studies in front of the open fire.

The Mirror Bar

+ Slightly more exotic offering cuisine-wise, with a mediterranean/organic menu

+ More classic/stylish lounge feel compared to the other spaces, with private dining and kitchen areas.

+ Afternoon tea (which we didn’t try) is £39 a head with unlimited refills – worth a punt, depending on their offering

+ The cocktail menu is exclusively classics which, judinging by the brands on show, purport to be excellent value for money.

- Does it offer the wow factor that would make one want to travel to Holborn?  I think a visit in the summer, when the adjacent terrace will be open, will make that decision.

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The Luggage Room

I’m not entirely sure I want you to know about this place.

It’s a high-quality, affordable place in Mayfar (pro).  It’s in a Marriot Hotel with direct access to the foyer (con).  If you’re in the right place it can feel timeless and magical with chrome, leather, and well-dressed internationals on dates and business lunches, the wrong table and you feel like you’re in a corridor drinking with tourists.  The drinks are classics, forgotten classics, and twists; enough to keep the menu interesting and wonder what certain flavours will be created, not so much that you’ll get disappointed by flash overcreativity.

It’s a slight shame that the plain black entry door now has a huge projection with the bar’s logo over it, but it’s not done in a way that detracts from the elegance within.  Service was unobtrusive and friendly, though we did feel sorry for the girl who had to leap up a flight of stairs to answer the door.

The bar snacks are pricey, but nuts/crisps are free.

+1 for a free sample drink on arrival.

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Afternoon Tea: Festive Afternoon Tea at Reform Social & Grill, Mandeville Hotel

I had been a semi-regular visitor to The Mandeville Hotel’s cocktail bar, due to its proximity to my workplace.  It boasts about being A Real Gentleman’s Hotel with class, elegance, and an implied musk of Traditional Man.  My hopes were high for the  Reform Social and Grill afternoon tea, having previously tasted their delicious sliders and herby cocktails, which weren’t soured by the presence of bum-bag wearing, Primark-carrying clientele (it is in a hotel, after all)

In-line with their usual teas, their festive offering came with “vintage” and “gentleman’s” options, and began with a “winter fruit punch” cocktail.  The vintage tea was your usual fare, nothing flash like at the Sanderson or generous like at the Haymarket, but a good, traditional tea with sarnies, scones, and mini cakes.  I’m told the savouries that came with the gentleman’s tea (mini sausage rolls, pies, and burgers) were excellent.

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However, it seems that the winter fruit punch was nothing more than a mulled wine, consisting of neither fruit nor the punch-requirement of ingredients – and it was served in tumblers.  Service, unfortunately, coloured the whole evening when at 3.01pm (our reservation was at 3pm) we were asked to order as “our party was late”, and when we indicated that our remaining guest had just left the tube station, our drinks were brought to us regardless.  Waiters continued to be slow and sloppy, serving the wrong items to the wrong people and balking at the full *discretionary* service charge not being paid.  What could have been a pleasant and fairly priced tea turned into a bit of a shambles, and due to the high expectations previously laid on, meant that the afternoon was something of a disappointment.

It should be noted that on reading our review The Reform Social and Grill offered us a free cocktail, but unfortunately as they took a week to reply to our booking, we had already made other plans when the proposed date had arrived.

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Three Things cubed: Homemade winter cocktails

Four louches, one teetotaller, £100 in Waitrose vouchers.

  1. Glenfiddich 12yr single malt (1), King’s Ginger liqueur (1), topped with ginger ale
  2. Woodford Reserve (2), King’s Ginger liqueur (1), hot apple juice, cinnamon
  3. Glenfiddich 12yr single malt (1), Monin chocolate liqueur (1), espresso coffee
  4. Strawberry puree topped with ginger ale, garnished with black pepper and drizzled with cognac (any old crap)
  5. Woodford Reserve (2), Dubonnet (1), hot apple juice, cinnamon
  6. Buffalo Trace bourbon (2), King’s Ginger liqueur (1), cherry bitters (2-), ginger ale

 

Virgin cocktails:

  1. Strawberry puree topped with ginger ale, garnished with black pepper and with 3 shots of Tobasco
  2. Espresso poured over maple and vanilla syrups, garnished with powdered cinnamon
  3. Elderflower syrup muddled with crushed ginger dissolved in hot apple juice, dusted with cinnamon

 

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Guest Post: Alexander & James

When Shreena Soomarah of ‘Anastrophe and Cheese’ invited me to a cocktail evening hosted by Alexander & James Spirits introducing their ‘Mixologist at Home’ bartending service, needless to say, my ears perked. I’ve turned to A&J before for procuring last minute gifts and they’ve certainly always satisfied – and who was I to turn down drinks on a Monday night?

Events so had it that I found myself knocking at the door of a private home in the back-streets behind City Road. Being the early bird that I am, I spent initial time I had before mingling with the other guests to observe the impeccably crafted minimalist loft and sneak in a conversation with the man behind the bar. Now, I did feel a bit guilty for a moment as James Fowler (owner of The Library Bar and The Larder House of Bournemouth, and finalist of the World Class UK Bartender of the Year 2013) glanced up attempting conversation while frenetically setting up the beginnings to his first cocktail – but still managed to hold his cool while guests got up close snapping pictures of the make-shift bar because there is no such thing as too-early-a-tweet. My excuse was having a good look at the spirits. Fantastic quality all-around, Tanqueray No.10, Zacapa 23, Ketel One – I was pleased. And not a Passoa or Grenadine bottle in sight, thank the stars.

I was cautious mingling at first (most of the guests seemed so as well), but the hosts of the event were wonderfully courteous in helping the crowd interact. Initially I was met with the same questions: “Are you a blogger?”
To which I could only reply, awkwardly, “A PhD researcher. But if it’s any consolation, I can sniff out all the bars in a 3 mile radius.”

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Now, I had a quick look at the list of six cocktails (classics, can’t go wrong with them) that will were to be swilled that evening, but the contents of said list hadn’t quite sunk in until the first drink was being passed around to the guests.
A Vesper Martini.
Eyes widened around the room as it seems it wasn’t just myself who realised the strength of the six on the menu until just now – considering we had under two hours for the event. Or as the suavely sartorial gentleman beside me muttered, “This will not end well.”

Now, I do love my gin Martinis – preferably with Sacred or No.3 – but a Vesper holds a special place in my heart as the first of the Martini family I drank as a teenager, and a drink that ignited my passion for cocktails.  Cheeky, starting off with a Vesper, but smooth – almost too smooth. I queried James about it and he admitted that he had altered the concoction to make it easier to down, considering the rest of the menu. I am not entirely sure how I feel about that decision. Brilliant and thoughtful, certainly – but simultaneously not staying true to the drink. I also noticed that menu booklet stated making the drink with Kina Lillet. Which would make sense if it was 1985 – but Kina has since been reformulated and rebranded as the much loved Lillet Blanc for a ‘modern taste’. Now unless A&J went in doctoring their Lillet Blanc with quinine, it’s probably best to stick with the brand’s current name.

Nonetheless, this ‘novice’ Vesper danced its way too easily to the Gimlet. News spread around the room (not entirely how true this was, but was entirely believable) that the Gimlet recipe was altered as well, to Gin/Lime : 50/50 (instead of the gin being twice the amount of lime juice). Again, probably for the best considering the intensity of the night’s drinks. Smooth, sneaky, seductive – a spectacularly well made Gimlet.

Onto the third drink, the night noticably took a different air – the crowd blended in whirling circles, the talk was louder, the swearing increasingly vulgar – the Margarita certainly came in with a flourish as she should. Simple, and staying true to its roots. Nothing like a drink reclaiming its ground after being bastardised by amateur bartenders through the years.

Things begin to get blurry as an Old Fashioned is thrust into my hand. I hear a glass shatter on the other side of the room. I give the glass a quick look-over – I was waiting for this one. Bulleit Bourbon was the one spirit on today’s menu I hadn’t sampled before and I was excited to get to know it better. My taste for whiskey is young and developing, and this high rye content bourbon was hitting the spot. I was thoroughly impressed by James’ work with this Old Fashioned, but couldn’t envy the amount of work that went into preparing the immense number of them that would have to be made for an entire party in such a short amount of time. Here his skills really made themselves evident as a finalist for the WC-UK Bartender of the Year.

A voice calls out from the crowd announcing that in 15 minutes we will have to make our way. A horrifying realisation that we haven’t sampled the last two drinks leads a charge to the bar – James is running out of tumblers as he makes a makeshift Negroni in a cocktail glass. We grab a shaky hold of the glass as I query about the final drink.
“But I haven’t even opened the rum yet!”
“If I said you were really attractive, would you?”
“…”
“…”
“OKAY BUT THIS WILL BE HURRIED”

And that’s how a group of sartorialists, foodies, cocktail enthusiasts and PR consultants found themselves double-fisting a Negroni and Daiquiri in the space of 10 minutes.

Regardless of the state we were finding ourselves in, two of us did stop to wonder what had happened with the Negroni. No doubt it was still a fine drink, but was a tad too sweet for a Negroni.  We hadn’t much time to contemplate the tipple as the Daiquiri took centre stage. There wasn’t time to set up a sugar syrup and rim station, so the Daiquiri had to go without – not that we were complaining. It did its job as a delightfully tart cocktail whose bitters balanced the sweetness of the sugar and Zacapa 23 rum perfectly – again, James’ ability to work under pressure was commendable and really showcased his skill.

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On being ushered out, we were handed goodie bags containing a wonderfully crafted cocktail glass, twisted mixing spoon, measure and miniature packed in Alexander & James’ signature cases; and the hosts were gracious enough to grant a second case of goods for my friend who could not make the night.

All in all, the night was outstanding, except for a couple of gripes.

For one, I thought it was odd that we’d be given a small batch of canapés that would be eliminated whilst on the first drink – considering that we would meet a barrage of aperitifs after. No doubt, the menu was crafted to display the bartender’s skill in the immortal classics – but the food and cocktail pairing with their timing was not spectacular. This would be less of a problem if there was a dinner after, but City Road doesn’t offer much at that time of night.

The second is less of a complaint, and more of a peeve –the branding “Mixologist at Home”. Mixology is a term that has existed in the world of bartending since the 40s, but has gained immense popularity recently. Except rather than suggesting innovation, is being thrown around left and right and now is slowly being equated with “person who makes Minestrones in a cocktail shaker”. Coupled with the fact that we drank purely classics, the term seemed a bit out of place – but like I said it’s a peeve, and I would not be surprised if you chose to disagree with me.

Stumbling our way to nearest station, one of the guests I got to know moans “I can’t believe I have to be awake at 8AM after this.”
Which is why I decided to cancel everything for tomorrow.
“Why, what did you have to do?”
I’m a PhD researcher. I’d probably have a hangover anyway.

Shehzad Raj is Martini-swigging, chocolate-devouring, espresso-downing, jewellery-crazy, make-up-obsessive, porn-loving, Jungian Post-Structural antihumanist and overall Bacchanologist who spends too much time being a complete irreverent sassbasket all over London.

You can follow his exploits @Liber_Azhdeha

Learn more about Alexander & James’ Mixologist-at-Home service

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London Cocktail Week 2013: La Grande Sommaire

MONDAY

Farrell – serving a Bathtub Gin-based punch.  We unfortunately arrived too late to have ours topped up with Prosecco, but our drinks didn’t suffer at all from it.  Delicate, spicy (something that so many cocktails tried and failed with this year), and nestled in the back room of what is the epitome of modern sartorial splendour.  It’s definitely something that makes the ladies want to return naked under their trenchcoats

Averna pop-up van – serving shots of averna, cherry balsalmic, and cayenne pepper.  Original delicious, reminded us of winter.

En route to Covent Garden, we visited an old favourite, Cafe Pacifico.  A selection of three drinks (two tequila, one rum), and free quesedillas more or less epitomise this place.  They know who they are and what they do best, and how to please.  It’s not high brow but it’s always satisfactory.

Buffalo Trace Bourbon pop-up – Everything a pop-up should be. Simple, showcasing the spirit in a variety of contexts, with mindful customer service.  Their perfect Manhattan (my yardstick) was flawless, and the selection of cocktails at our table equally favourable

Cucina Asellina – A restaurant, so the focus here isn’t really on cocktails.  But they strive to prove their Italian forte, serving their signature Signore Asellina, a limoncello and raspberry based drink that was neither sickly sweet nor sour.  We also chose a few of their bar snacks – the veal stuffed, parmesan crusted olives remain our food highlight of the week.

Unfortunately the adjacent Marconi Lounge doesn’t deserve such praise.  An uninterested bartender in an empty room took 20 minutes to serve cinnamon and apple woodford reserve/chambord mixes (a recipe essentially stolen from last year’s Movember at The Gilbert Scott).  This was a shame, given that WR is my favourite bourbon.  We were allowed to take our drinks to the roof, however, and ended the evening with the best views of London available.

TUESDAY

Into Soho.  Central & Co were offering chilli-spiced Tequila old fashioned.  Excellent on paper, but it was clear that the spirit hadn’t been infused for long enough, and what was left was a cinnamon bland mess.

Luckily The Blind Pig was on hand to raise our expectations.  Perhaps one of the few places in London worthy of a speakeasy name, the quasi-macabre, rust and leather interior suited our glowing pisco sours, of high enough quality to make the woman who hates sour drinks finish hers.

Archer Street was the next stop.  They topped off our drink with energy drink.  I think that says it all.

Mizuwari, the basement bar of Bincho on Old Compton Street, provided some respite at the end of the night.  Japanese Scotch is not to everyone’s taste but, as with Cafe Pacifico, they know their strength, which in this case is the niche Japanese Whisky universe.  They kept things simple with Whisky, soda, and mint.   What else did you expect?

 

THURSDAY

The Heron Tower’s reputation must be disproportionate to gravity because The Drift is nothing but a middle class Wetherspoons.  I don’t think “Do you like rum?” was an ironic name for their cocktail week offering.  Daiquiris in martini glasses that tasted like margaritas.

Ninetyeight in Shoreditch offered a very weak, juicy cocktail.  Gin-based, but overbearingly peach (NB when I am merely referring to the spirit as opposed to the brand, it is a sign of how poor they are).  An entertaining waiter and free food, however.  If I were lost and needing the toilet I might come here.

Floripa was Brazilian Pacifico.  Caprihanas with South American Food.  Wonderful.

NOLA was what I had waited all week for.  No fuss, cocktails in jars, great live music, and an oustanding Sazerac.  There were looks of bliss around the table just on smelling the stuff.  Finally! A real drink!

The Looking Glass.  No.  We shared a £4 drink between three.  It’s like Callooh Callay but shit.

5cc – This place reminds me of a Sam Smiths pub.  It’s where the downtrodden might drink in Victorian times.  Again, we were served a “bourbon based daiquiri” which was essentially a sour, but it was a great one, so they could be forgiven.

FRIDAY

Shaker & Co was far from our target location of Fitzrovia, but as it’s near one of our favourite restaurants we decided to give it a go.  Everything on the menu is below £10 (food and drink) and outstanding, right down to the sweet potato chips.  Our cocktail was rum, maraschino, and a homemade earl grey liqueur.  Interesting, layered, lovely.

Lucky Pig‘s offering purported to be drambuie, orange, and maple syrup.  Interesting on paper, terribly acidic in practice.  I put this down to poor bartending skills.  I know I could make better.

JW Simpson of the Bourne & Hollingsworth clan looks as expected – shabby chic with reasonably priced drinks.  They were offering a DIY vodka martini.  With the addition of chilli chocolate bitters, peppercorns, and a twist, I had my first enjoyable vodka martini.  It’s also given me ideas for what to stock my own bar with.  Olive bitters, you say?

Dabbous – Gin, apple juice, and white wine?  Is this really the place that made us feel so elegant last year?

We forsook most of the places on Charlotte Street, and with Bam-Bou closed for a private function, sought refuge in the nearest French restaurant for some much-missed wine.

SATURDAY

Bedford & Strand was one of those places I had always walked past with the intention of returning.  It’s a true Old British wine bar, serving honest food and clever drinks.  Gin, strawberries, and peppery balsalmic gave us the drink we had been looking for all week.  New, simple, but creative.

Bassoon Bar was always known as a fantastic cocktail place, but at £16 a drink not a regular haunt.  The absinthe-washed and mint-garnished vodka martini went down all too easily, and we were shocked to discover that they’d used a puny Russian Standard to create such a nice drink.

Albannach  has a longstanding reputation for being one of the best Single Malt houses in London.  The upstairs restaurant is serene and elegant, but unfortunately the downstairs bar looks like something out of a cheesy BDSM shoot.  The drinks do deliver, however.  Their smoky variety of malts are served short with adventurous (potentially dangerous) additions such as chartreuse and picon really show off their expertise.

Mint Leaf is nowhere near as elegant on the inside as we had hoped.  Our expectations were low, and when we were told we were having a Finlandia drink with strawberry and thyme, we weren’t expecting much.  But again, the drink was clean, crisp, and flavoursome.  If you can put up with the decor, music, and company, it’s great.

Inamo left us standing at the bar for 15 minutes and were serving a passion fruit bellini.  We didn’t order one.

 

So a few positives were gained this year, but also a lot of disappointments.  Sponsors and venues need to remember why they join cocktail week – it’s not to make an easy buck off of chug-happy boozers, but to showcase their establishments and make the most of the spirits they produce.

 

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