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Monday, 16 December 2013

London Cocktail Week

Tuesday October 8th - Two months have passed since the madness of London Cocktail Week.  Over 150 bars around London joined in the £4 cocktail fun, and you could barely take a step in Seven Dials without arriving at a pop-up bar of some kind.  I had hoped to head out a few times to take it all in but Team List only managed two trips in the end.  That said, 13 bars should be enough for one post... 


Day 1 started at the London Cocktail Week hub in Seven Dials.  Luke and I collected our £10 wristbands (which give you access to everything going on around the city) and marched off to a vaguely Vegas themed pop-up bar run by Portobello gin for our first drink.  We were handed two very ordinary Tom Collins which were severely lacking gin, so we drank up and ran away before any Elvis impersonators turned up.

Portobello Gin Vegas Bar
Our shaky start continued as we ducked into Detroit Bar over the road on Earlham Street.  Here we were served a bizarre cocktail which included Benedictine and apple, and tasted fairly medicinal. It felt like Detroit was on its last legs, so I wasn't surprised to hear that it was closing down.  In fact, it has now been replaced by Earlham Street Clubhouse, complete with NY pizzas by the slice, petrol beer bumps and booths with phones - read more here.

The now closed Detroit Bar
After two dodgy drinks, we decided to escape Seven Dials and give Soho a try.  We poked our heads into Kettner's but noone wanted to serve us so we didn't stay long.  Kettner's is a true Soho classic which was opened as a restaurant in 1867 by Auguste Kettner (chef to Napoleon III) across four Georgian townhouses.  Oscar Wilde and Agatha Christie were known to dine here, and Edward VII built underground tunnels to Kettners from the Palace Theatre so that he could discreetly entertain his mistress Lilly Langtry in what is now The Apartment, an attractive private dining room with a secret entrance on Greek Street.  

The Apartment at Kettner's
If you fancy exploring Kettners and partying like it's 1929, get yourself tickets for the next Herr Kettner's Cabaret.  I may well pop back in the run up to Christmas for their Tuesday Gin, Fizz and Jazz nights.


Just as we were moving on we were joined by Will who was keen to catch up and glad to hear that we hadn't had much success so far.  He had sensibly not put on his wristband, pointing out that it wouldn't be ideal walking around work the next day looking a little groggy with a London Cocktail Week bracelet still attached.  We consulted our Soho map and decided to tick off a few more reliable bars that hadn't yet made The List, starting with Zenna, an Indian themed cocktail bar below The Red Fort restaurant on Dean Street.

Zenna claim to have the world's spiciest cocktail, The Illiana, which comes with a Fire Extinguisher soda siphon of ice cold gin fizz to put out the flames.  I can't see it on their current menu though so things might have changed.  We were served a tasty Spicy Sapphire made with chilli vodka which we enjoyed drinking at the bar with the entertaining bartenders.  The attractive alcove in one corner would be perfect for parties, and Zenna has an enticing snack food menu which includes Soft Shell Crab and Salmon Tikka.

Zenna
Our fourth bar of the evening was The Player which was opened by Dick Bradsell in 1998 and rescued by the Rushmore Group (Milk & Honey, Danger of Death) in 2001.  It was pretty busy when we arrived so we set up camp at the bar and waited for an opportune moment to place our order directly with the bartenders.  The £4 concoction on offer here was The Journey, a fantastic drink made with Mezcal, Bacardi and Martini which came with some back story about how the big brands were once small companies working hard to get their products around the world.

The Player Bar
The Player is home to The Slider Bar which gives residencies to some of London's Street Food heroes. Lucky Chip were here a couple of months ago, but now the Breddos Tacos boys are running the kitchen.  Make sure you get a Breddos Chilliback (shot of tequila chased by pickled habanero juice) when you order one of their delicious sliders.  


If you've always been annoyed at pubs holding the monopoly on quizzes, head to The Player on the second Monday of every month  for their Popbitch Popquiz.

We pressed on and paid a quick visit to the Blind Pig upstairs at Social Eating House.  Team List were the first people through the doors when this opened back in April (read more here) so it was nice to see Kyle and his team mixing up drinks for a full house a few months later on.  We had a very drinkable Pisco Sour which had a glow stick around the rim.  We were hit with a service charge which was obviously minimal but seemed slightly ridiculous in the context of London Cocktail Week.  

The Blind Pig at Social Eating House
Our penultimate stop was Central & Co on Great Malborough Street, an all day brasserie and bar which opens for breakfast at 8am on weekdays and 9am on weekends.  This was my favourite discovery of the evening - upstairs is a stunning space at night, with candlelit tables and an open frontage looking out onto the edges of Soho and Mayfair.  The drink wasn't half bad either - a Tequila Old Fashioned with black pepper and a cinnamon & orange peel garnish, just right for an end of the night drink (even if we we went somewhere else afterwards).  Flatmate Maggie turned up here late doors as usual to pick up a couple of Team List points.


Central & Co
Central & Co was really on The List because of the downstairs bar, & Co., which was sadly too quiet to make use of whilst we were there.  All spirits are unmarked so you order spirits based on their flavour profile and drink them straight or enhanced using liqueurs, vermouths and bitters.  You never find out what you were drinking, even when you pay the bill!  It is a bold concept which I admire, but from what I have heard it hasn't quite taken off yet.  I really hope that it does as there are so many copycat cocktail bars around and it is refreshing to go somewhere that isn't pushing a particular brand at you.  Go and check them out!

Experimental downstairs bar "& Co" at Central & Co
Last but not least on Day One was The Bar at the Courthouse Hotel next to Central & Co.  The venue used to be the Great Malborough Street Magistrates Court, and the bar uses the original cell blocks as 'cosy' VIP rooms!  We all squeezed into one (with Maggie relegated to the toilet seat) and finished of the night with a refreshing Courthouse Bar Margarita.  We were the only people in the bar so atmosphere was lacking, but we had a good time anyway.

The Bar at the Courthouse Hotel
Before we left, we had a quick snoop around the Silk Restaurant which is set up as a courtroom.  The quirky setting features the original judges bench, dock and witness stand that were present for the trials of Oscar Wilde, Mick Jagger and John Lennon.  It was pitch black and we couldn't find a light switch which fittingly made us feel slightly like criminals, even though the staff assured us we could look around!

Silk Restaurant
Day Two - Wednesday October 9th - After missing a fruitful first day, List Leader Natalie was keen to get involved and maintain her 50 point lead over the rest on the Team List Leaderboard, even though she was feeling under the weather.  She planned not to drink - let's see how that goes...

I started off in Seven Dials again with much better results the second time.  I came across a Sailor Jerry stall handing out free cocktail shots to wristband owners, and a little further up the road a similar Disaronno station run by two very entertaining (and rowdy) bartenders.  My team-mates were still a way off so I popped my head in to the Euphorium Bakery courtyard that had been transformed into a pop-up Bloody Mary garden

Sailor Jerry & Bloody Mary Garden
I eventually got the call from Natalie and marched out of Seven Dials towards Goodge Street, our hunting ground for the night.  Our first stop was Berners Tavern, Jason Atherton's stunning follow up to Social Eating House in the London Edition Hotel.  London Cocktail Week exists so that you can march your way into places like these and order a £4 cocktail without fear of being turned away (would snobby Sketch ever get involved, I wonder?).  The enormous dining room and bar is a sight to behold - high ceilings, packed in paintings, epic chandeliers and a terrifyingly tall back bar.  We sped through a refreshing Caorunn gin-based concoction before Luke arrived (yes, ailing Natalie gave in to the booze immediately), and decided to press on in the name of research.  I need to return to Edition at some point to check out the secluded Punch Room Bar, a "reservations only, fumed-oak paneled den" that has been been getting very complimentary write-ups

Berner's Tavern
Our second bar of the evening was The London Cocktail Club, one of my favourite "chains" which now has 5 sites around the city.  Every time a new customer enters the Goodge Street "punk gin palace" branch, the bartenders shout hello across the room, a lovely touch.  We were served immediately although I would happily watch their pyrotechnics and extreme garnishing for a good long while.  The cocktail of the week was a G&T topped with a sachet of Cherry Heering jam for us to add in.  It sunk pleasingly to the bottom of the glass which you could choose to reach with a straw.  Quick and easy to serve, and great fun for the customers, a perfect London Cocktail Week drink.


Cocktail No.3 was "Celtic Stairs", again made with Caorunn Gin, at Bourne & Hollingsworth, a nutty little bar that looks like your Grandma's living room with the exception of the DJ table (I look forward to a rush of angry comments on my generalisation about your hip elderly relatives).  It was quite possibly the best drink of the evening - an Autumnal mix of of apples & pears with warming All-Spice liqueur and Caorunn Celtic Gin, sharpened with lemon juice, and finished with redcurrants and rosemary.  The B&H team were also behind the brilliant Kitchen Party Popup that ran for a couple of months in the middle of the year - read more here.

Bourne & Hollingsworth
We didn't have to travel far for our fourth drink of the evening.  Next door to Bourne & Hollingsworth, Bam-Bou describes itself as a Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurant, but those in the know head up to the third floor to find The Red Bar which is home to over 60 Japanese whisky blends & single malts.  We were treated to a boozy Zacapa Aged Rum based libation served from a barrel which wasn't to my taste but was still well worth the £4 investment.  It's a beautiful place to hole up for a few drinks away from the crowds.  

The Red Bar at Bambou
By the time we were onto our 5th bar, pharmacist Natalie's illness was a thing of the past - take whatever medical advice you fancy from that.  It was a short walk to Oskar's Bar, tucked away beneath the much lauded Dabbous restaurant (read more on the food here).  The charming Maitre D' led us away from the stunning food, down to the stylish downstairs bar.  Here we were presented with a Reincarnation - a very drinkable mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Beefeater and some less alcoholic ingredients, which is a twist on their Reincarnation of Anthony Edwards cocktail made with Sauvignon Blanch, Cachaca, lime, honey and sorrel juice.  The drinks list is full of tempting, playful creations including IKEA Sours, That Other Drink with Mezcal, and 2 Blueberries 1 Cup - there is even a section dedicated to Beer & Cider cocktails, which always gets extra points from me.  If that's not enough to tempt you downstairs, then the Bar Snack menu created by head chef Ollie Dabbous should seal the deal - who wouldn't want "Lard on Toast with Black Truffle"?

Oskar's Bar underneath Dabbous
Our final stop was Rev JW Simpson, which we paid a visit to after a recommendation by the Bourne & Hollingsworth guys.  We intended to go to one more place afterwards, but we got sidetracked by a highly entertaining arrogant punter, who thought he was devilishly charming and witty, but was actually an offensive prick.  Anyway, we humoured him and Natalie managed to coax a free drink out of him for our troubles.  Luke and I meanwhile ordered their exciting London Cocktail Week special, a DIY Belvedere Vodka Martini that came in a bucket with various tinctures and garnishes to play with.  This was the most inventive drink that I had all week, and was a great way to finish off the evening.

DIY Martini at Rev JW Simpson
London Cocktail Week is a truly magnificent event, and it is it is a real labour of love for the Difford's Guide team behind it - it will hopefully continue to exist and grow for many years to come.  Simon Difford has grand plans for the future, starting with many more participating bars and more LCW hubs next year.  He has also teamed up with London Wine Fair to bring us the first ever London Wine Week from 2-8 June in 2014 - book that week and 6-12 October off from work now!

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