London Cocktail Week 2013: La Grande Sommaire


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.


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?



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.


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.


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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