The best bars in London right now

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Earlier this year, many of London’s best bars were forced to pivot to prioritise delivery services and online purchases as a result of Covid-19. Some used the time to fine-tune their menus; others to experiment with innovative ingredients. Some redesigned completely, and others have cropped up in direct response to increased demand for sustainable and local produce and a more thoughtful approach. Each week, we’ll be adding to our list of the best bars in the capital to support now.

The following bars in London are open now

  • The best bars in London right now

    Crossroads, Camden

    An innovative, zero-waste drinking den in Camden

    As London’s hospitality industry slowed to a stop during lockdown, husband-and-wife team Bart and Monika Miedekza put their heads together to create something different. Having worked for years at venues such as Dalston’s High Water, Typing Room and Vagabond Wines, the pair wanted to match their experience with a passion for sustainability and community-led initiatives. A few months and a serious refurb project later, the aptly named Crossroads bar opened at the junction under Camden Town bridge.

    Out on the pavement, signs (hand-painted by Monika) alert passers-by to £6 Espresso Martinis, directing inquisitive guests down a staircase encased in iron-wrought railings. Inside, former Victorian loos have been transformed into an underground, speakeasy-style bar. Industrial ceilings give way to midnight-blue walls and hand-hewn wooden tables, and light seeps in through the original glass roof. Hoping to bring a renewed sense of community to the neighbourhood, the Crossroads ethos is based on zero-waste: using what is already available, working with local produce and sticking to a closed-loop philosophy.

    DRINKS

    After struggling to source typical mixology ingredients during the pandemic, the team realised that one thing many bored Londoners had taken to during lockdown was gardening. So they sent out feelers and began sourcing micro herbs, vegetables and other produce from nearby, forming the basis of their weekly changing cocktail list. There are plans to add an indoor garden, with UV lights and an irrigation system adapted from water seeping through cracked Victorian tiles behind the walls, and eventually install solar panels to power the entire bar. From the small but punchy signature drinks list, we tried the Cairo, a refreshing, translucent tipple made with a blend of vodka, cold-brew sencha, melon and soda water, as well as A Tale of Two Cities, a sweeter mix of sherry, vermouth and aloe vera. Classic cocktails are also available on request, or ask the bartender for recommendations based on your taste.

    FOOD

    The bar has a short menu of snacks and bites. In line with the zero-waste ethos, inspiration for food comes from leftover cocktail ingredients. Traditional options of olives and almonds appear alongside more creative dishes; cucumber is turned into homemade pickles once the skin has been used as a garnish for drinks.

    VERDICT

    Using lockdown as a springboard for innovation and creativity, Crossroads is a sustainable, community-focused project adding positivity to the Camden scene. Olivia Morelli

    Address: Crossroads, junction of Royal College Street and Camden Road, NW1 9NN, London


    Telephone: +44 7563 211405


    Website: crossroads.bar

  • The best bars in London right now

    SMOKEY KUDU, PECKHAM

    Peckham’s first seriously swanky cocktail bar

    When young South African chef Patrick Williams and his partner, Amy Corbin, opened their first restaurant together in 2018, Queen’s Road was still the (relatively) dodgy end of Peckham. Yes, Corbin’s father is the Corbin behind restaurant group Corbin & King (The Wolseley, Soutine), but even so, in less than a year they received indisputable approval from the Michelin panel with a Bib Gourmand confirming the quality of the food, and the affordable prices, too. Just over a year later Giles Coren was finally coaxed south-east and, after only a short grumble, agreed with the rest of us, that Kudu is an ‘example of perfect restaurant making in a nutshell’. Less than two years on and the Kudu Collective is expanding fast. First up is cocktail bar Smokey Kudu. Two minutes’ walk from the original restaurant – under the arches at Queen’s Road Peckham station – the space is small, but cleverly conceived so it doesn’t feel it. There’s a pink marble horseshoe bar backed with vintage mirrors and an enormous original blown-glass chandelier from Venice, which had to be quickly reinforced on opening week to stop it swinging as the trains passed overhead.

    DRINKS

    Corbin’s plan was to create a cocktail bar that would be at home in Mayfair or Soho – quite the ambition given the rest of Peckham is still drinking craft ale in car parks. But as soon as you walk in, you really could be in one of London’s swankiest hotel bars. The cocktail list is immediately interesting, made up of classics but with a South African twist. A Braai Negroni is made with mezcal, rooibos, sloe, amaro, and thyme; while a Kudu Spritz is a mix of Aperol, South African vermouth, and rooibos topped with fizz. There’s also a short list of African grapes, as well as beer from local Brick Brewery. Sip one Zulu Espresso, finished with Amarula and nutmeg, and you’re likely to want to stay for the rest of the night.

    FOOD

    So as not to confuse the fact Smokey Kudu is serious about cocktails, you’ll only find olives, a nut mix and biltong on the snacks menu – but they’re all significantly superior to your run-of-the-mill bar snacks. Crucially, there’s always Kudu come suppertime; or sourdough pizzas at Mamma Dough round the corner. Watch the space next door to Kudu where Little Kudu, a tapas-style joint is soon to add yet another option to the Queen’s Road Peckham roster.

    VERDICT

    This foodie couple know what they’re doing when it comes to restaurants, and, it turns out, bars, too. You’re not in Queen’s Road Peckham any more. By Tabitha Joyce

    Address: Smokey Kudu, Arch 133 Queen’s Road, Peckham, London SE15 2ND


    Website: kuducollective.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, Covent Garden

    Best for: wine buffs, not bluffs

    Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (or CVS for short) is one of those bars you’ve probably popped into while waiting for a spot at Barbary’s tiny countertop or a 20-inch pizza at Homeslice, but it was unlikely your final destination. It should be. Just like the original Parisian wine bar tucked behind the Marché Saint-Germain in the 6th arrondissement, the Neal’s Yard outpost – which goes by the same outlandish name – acts as a cosy respite from the tourist-filled cobbled streets of Covent Garden. The concept, from the team behind the Experimental Cocktail Club, a speakeasy in Chinatown notorious for its selective bouncer guarding the door, is a more relaxed affair. As long as you like wine, that is. This is not the place to ask for a glass of house red, but you won’t face a man wearing an earpiece like he’s guarding No.10, either. Instead, the charcoal-paletted space is designed for long, grown-up evenings sitting on the plump seats with a bottle of wine. The low-lit room is filled with chatter and candles ambiently flickering from their cut-crystal holders.

    DRINKS

    Sommelier Roman Jaën or one of his friendly, mostly French staff will greet you with a wine list so heavy it could knock you out, and a board of daily food specials you’d be mad not to try. We visited on a cold, wet, November evening and opted for a night of reds – natural Côtes-du-Rhônes that were smooth and light on the palate with flavours of soft red fruits, and complex blends from Bordeaux. For the more adventurous or wine savvy, there’s a Mystery Wine on the shortlist – guess it correctly and you’ll win a bottle for the table.

    FOOD

    Come for a snack and we dare you not to stay for dinner. Fluffy potato croquettes with goat’s cheese are crisped up delicately, while a deep-panned pita bread drenched in tahini and wild mushrooms is not for sharing. The Posh Madame served with truffled ham and a quail’s egg will satisfy any wine-induced cravings, while carefully selected French cheese and meat platters are always a safe bet. Sides of white or green asparagus go well with simply cooked sea bass with lemon, or with the grilled lobster.

    VERDICT

    A centrally located wine bar with finesse and fabulous food, which will make you feel like you never left your living room.

    Address: Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, 8-10 Neal’s Yard, London WC2H 9DP


    Telephone: +44 20 7734 7737


    Website: cvssevendials.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Diogenes the Dog, Elephant and Castle

    A cavernous wine bar in the last place you’d expect to find one


    Diogenes the Dog’s owner Sunny Hodge has recently returned from a road trip through Texas on the back of a Harley-Davidson, visiting vineyards that produce wines which have drawn a comparison to those from Portugal. It’s not the first time he has taken a journey like this to find offbeat winemakers and regions that he can add to his esoteric menu – and it certainly won’t be the last. Hodge opened the wine bar on a quiet street near Elephant and Castle station at the end of 2018. Flooded with light in the day and moodily lit by low-hanging lamps and candles in the evening, the two-storey space (which regularly hosts jazz nights in the basement) has exposed-brick walls neatly stacked with bottles and rustic wooden floors filled with bountiful foliage that gives it a simultaneously snug yet stylish atmosphere. It’s a vibe that is fitting for somewhere named after the Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic, who believed that all the artificial elements of society – money, power, fame and possessions – were incompatible with happiness. It was better instead, he thought, to live simply, in the present moment, and embrace what the natural world has to offer.

    DRINKS

    For a bar specialising in wines, Diogenes the Dog has an edgy, streamlined menu – only new regions and old winemakers who are experimenting make the cut. On the continuously changing list, there might be an orange from the Czech Republic; a citrusy white from Texas; red from the Shanxi region in northern China; or wine from Champagne that is not, in fact, Champagne. Because the offerings are typically underrepresented in the UK, ordering glasses rather than bottles is highly encouraged and, with most staff being trained sommeliers, guests will be given a full background on each one. While the service is polished, the price point is reasonable – it’s Elephant and Castle not Mayfair, after all – and Hodge really wants to share his unusual findings with the world without putting people off.

    BAR SNACKS

    Don’t come here for your five a day – it’s, quite rightly, all about the cheese. Smoked scamorza from southern Italy is plated up with juicy sundried tomatoes and a drizzle of wild honey, while a seasonal sourdough toastie comes with melted blue cheese and smashed pear. There’s also burrata served two ways: spread on focaccia with red pesto and capers; and on its own with a Genovese pesto.

    VERDICT

    A destination bar you’ll want to trek to for wines you almost certainly haven’t tried before. By Emma Russell

    Address: Diogenes the Dog, 96 Rodney Road, London SE17 1BG


    Telephone: +44 20 7703 5570


    Website: diogenesthedog.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Moto, Covent Garden

    An ancient tradition is celebrated on Maiden Lane

    Two thousand years since sake was first brewed in Japan, the country seems to be falling out of love with its national drink, its breweries closing and sales slipping. But new interest has been piqued in the West, along with all things Japanese from matcha to Marie Kondo-style minimalism, which has resulted in exports of the fermented-rice beverage doubling over the past 10 years. In London, sake has floated onto some of the city’s hottest menus, selected by sommeliers for its umami quality that makes it naturally flavour-enhancing. Instead of the traditional ceramic ochoko, it’s served in wine glasses with fish and chips, cheese and oysters, as well as a range of Japanese dishes. Yet sake remains largely misunderstood by the masses, which Tokyo-born Erika Haigh hopes to change. Her new bar Moto (meaning ‘origin’ in Japanese) is entirely devoted to drinks from Japan, with sake sourced from small producers – some of which have never been exported before – taking centre stage. Well-versed in the language of wine, she has used her training as a sommelier to demystify what she sells, creating beautiful hand-printed cards that include tasting notes, food pairings, flavour intensity and sweetness levels. She ranks each bottle on shelves above the blue-and-white bar, going across from light, fresh and aromatic to rich, earthy and umami, then down from mild to medium and dry – it’s the focal point in a diminutive blonde-wood space that inspires humility.

    THE DRINK

    Sake has an alcohol content that is a little above wine but is brewed like beer, with rice implanted with koji mould, then mixed with water and yeast. It’s a labour-intensive process that can take many years, the rice polished many times over to remove the bran – sometimes removing more than 60 per cent of the rice grain. It’s a complex undertaking, making sake delightfully diverse but also daunting, which is why Moto’s sake flight is the perfect starting point for newbies. Three aromatic sommelier-selected sakes will take you on a journey from sweet and summery flavours to deep and savoury ones. Though if you want to feel like a local ask for a nihonshu rather than sake ( it actually means ‘alcoholic drink’). Check out Moto’s list of vintages and super-premium daiginjo, or try their Japanese gin, whisky or absinthe for good measure.

    THE FOOD

    For a bar this tiny, Moto’s ever-changing otsumami, or bar snacks menu, is impressive and balanced to perfection. There’s aubergine simmered until tender with a salty sauce that’s poured over the rice, while crunchy pickled cucumber is light and refreshing. They’ve recreated the popular street-food snack chicken karaage with tempura crumbs and sake, too, but if you’re feeling hungry the grilled miso salmon is rich and decadent.

    VERDICT

    The perfect classroom set-up for studying sake – the bright lights and lack of music demand that you give the drinks your full attention. By Emma Russell

    Address: Moto, 7 Maiden Lane, London WC2E 7NA


    Website: motoldn.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Diddy’s, Hackney

    A friendly Hackney neighbourhood bar riffing on the classics

    ‘Where are all the bars named after female owners?’ Diddy Varley, co-founder of her beloved namesake, exclaims as she cheerfully takes our drinks order. Warm, energetic, colourful and cool, she is the personification of Diddy’s. After working for years in TV, she opened her dream place on a neglected stretch of Mare Street with her architect boyfriend Jayden Ali back in 2016. Now she’s neighbours with Mare Street Market, Bright and NT’s bar. The stylish corner spot full of plants, pops of bright colour and food-based artwork has since built up a loyal local following that you’ll immediately want to be part of. An airy relaxed café by day full of freelancers and coffee catch-ups moves easily into a casual drinking spot once night falls. There are only four tables and a bar perch (with a couple of extra tables downstairs), which means that with just a few couples on dates, a cluster of friends and the resident dog napping on the floor, the bar feels lively and inviting.

    DRINKS

    Although the bar serves a nice selection of biodynamic wines by the bottle (and non-bio by the glass) and a punchy selection of beer and cider, cocktails are the main attraction here. The menu is divided into four classics – Spritz, Negroni, Margarita and Sour – each with a series of options including the original and some mild deviations. There’s nothing too wild, luckily: Negronis go as far as a smoky and sharp Chile Mezcal variety, and there’s a refreshing Diddylicious Spritz with Campari, dry vermouth, lime and sugar syrup that’s worth a go on a warm evening. The classics are all done well and, wonderfully, the priciest cocktail on the menu is £9.

    SNACKS

    Crunchy bites come in the form of salty almonds, peanuts and giant kikos (puffed corn kernels), while a burrata or charcuterie platter of Iberico ham, beef chorizo and serrano will keep hunger at bay. But go straight for one of the toasties: sourdough oozing mature cheddar and mustard, with optional additions of kimchi, red onion, leek, jalapeño, chorizo and ham. We can strongly recommend the kimchi toastie washed down with a mezcal Margarita.

    VERDICT

    If a toastie and a £6.50 Negroni sounds like the best bar in London, you too could find yourself quickly becoming a Diddy’s regular. By Sonya Barber

    Address: Diddy’s, 69 Mare Street, London E8 4RG


    Telephone: +44 20 8510 0800


    Website: diddys.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    MANETTA’S BAR, MAYFAIR

    A secret den with an intriguing past

    At the bar counter, there is talk of Torino and Sorrento. Italian bartenders in London have no doubt been polishing glasses and talking about Torino and Sorrento ever since the Martini was invented. And the bartenders here are particularly well cast, with Amalfi moustaches and red velvet waistcoats, silver armbands and black bow ties – almost as if they’ve stepped out of a Miss Marple mystery, more of which later. For the uninitiated, Manetta’s can be found downstairs at Flemings, a townhouse hotel on a small Mayfair street, which dates all the way back to 1851 and the Great Exhibition – London’s second oldest – but has managed to stay off the radar to most. It’s discreet, in a welcoming, family-run way, and was refurbished a few years ago with De Gournay wall panels and Art Deco touches; the bar first opened in the 1930s and has a wood-and-leather clubby feel to it, all rose-gold, black and Dior-style rouge. Some say that Agatha Christie used Flemings as inspiration for her 1965 whodunnit At Bertram’s Hotel, which has given the bar team poetic licence to concoct a range of Christie-inspired drinks, watched over by literary portraits of the writer, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and others (a footnote: the hotel has nothing to do with the creator of 007. Remember: Christie at Flemings, Fleming at Dukes). The bar was also the haunt of various MI5 spooks after the war, which for the imaginatively inclined imparts a whiff of George Smiley to the proceedings. All this intrigue no doubt appeals to Steven Soderbergh, who likes to hang out here when in town – if you’re curious about what Bolivian brandy tastes like, try a shot of the American film director’s own Singani 63, which sits behind the bar.

    THE DRINK


    There are lots of grown-up hits of alcohol at this London bar, many with fruity top notes, the occasional shrub and ample deployment of Italian vermouth. Of the Christie cocktails, there’s They Do It With Mirrors, a sour that stirs in tequila with a shot of Fleurie and lavender-chamomile syrup, and the Mojito-based Atypical Christie, using Cognac and port with lemon and basil. Both are drinks to savour slowly. Look also to the Lost Generation, a sophisticated take on the Whisky Mac, pairing Talisker and Johnnie Walker with ginger and Antica Formula, or Viola at Dusk, a straightforward combination of gin, soda and vermouth. There are several riffs on classics, too, such as the New Fashioned, a rich rum-and-chocolate creation given a Carmen Miranda-like bouquet of pineapple, strawberry and lime. And, a bit of a curveball this, the menu has an exemplary range of baijiu, the Chinese spirit made from sorghum or rice. Bearing in mind the literary association, there is nothing, thankfully, with arsenic – unless your drinking companion is up to something.

    THE FOOD


    Order the mushroom arancini, and possibly the calamari, but if you want to make an evening of it, bag a table at next-door Ormer, the seafood-savvy restaurant from chef Shaun Rankin: the lobster ravioli is particularly good.


    VERDICT

    A Mayfair den for clandestine assignments, or simply an escapist evening in the heart of the city. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Manetta’s Bar, Flemings Mayfair, 7–12 Half Moon Street, London W1J 7BH


    Telephone: +44 20 7016 5601


    Website: flemings-mayfair.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    HIDE BELOW, PICCADILLY

    One of London’s best restaurants has a downstairs drinking den to match

    It’s been more than a year since Ollie Dabbous’s latest restaurant Hide opened its doors to become one of the best Piccadilly restaurants. Heavy, thick, knowingly blank doors that take serious nerve to push open. They’re the first signal that this is an exclusive spot – in all the right ways, with serene hostesses instantly on hand to whisk you to your table. Most people are here to eat – Dabbous led the restaurant to win a Michelin star just a few months after opening in 2018 – on the oaky ground floor, named Ground, and in the fancier tasting-and-set-menu-only room upstairs, Above. But downstairs, Dabbous’s long-term business partner Oskar Kinberg, who mixes top-shelf drinks to match the much-lauded food, is looking after the cocktail bar. This is Below. Filled with polished-concrete walls, rust-coloured leather, low lighting and deep, thick wood, it’s a masculine space. There are cases upon cases of bottles stocked by Hedonism Wines, Mayfair’s poshest bottle shop, which is responsible for Hide having the longest wine list in London.

    DRINKS

    The cocktail menu is as grown-up and masculine as the surroundings – drinks are musky, leathery and sharp rather than sweet and colourful. They change seasonally, taking a couple of ingredients and bringing them to the forefront of the tasting notes. In the autumny Panacea, cognac from H by Hine is mixed with pear soda, sage and sparkling wine to create a savoury, herby concoction. The Golden Apple is tart enough to make your eyes water, with Fallen Pony Blend (a quince-tea spirit), Rutte Old Simon Genever whisky, Toast pale ale (made with leftover bread) and rosemary. Kinberg expertly guides the tipples past gimmicks – unusual ingredients range from banana syrup to aloe vera but are considered rather than gratuitous – and adds slick garnishes. We particularly liked the banana-bread crisp served with one cocktail, made from that morning’s breakfast-service scraps.

    SNACKS

    The phrase bar snacks doesn’t really do the food menu here justice – it still has Dabbous’s name on it, after all. House-made charcuterie is piled with thin slices of meltingly fatty goose, lamb, beef and pork. There are savoury profiteroles oozing with molten dairy and a perfectly balanced cheeseboard that a knowledgeable waiter talks you through. It’s basically a taste of the upstairs menu, which is also well worth a visit – book in as you leave.

    VERDICT

    A smart bar with an even smarter menu, serving some of Piccadilly’s best cocktails. By Sarah James

    Address: Hide Below, 85 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NB


    Telephone: +44 20 3146 8666


    Website: hide.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Scout, Hackney

    A neighbourhood bar in Hackney serves up cocktails made from foraged ingredients

    Scout’s sometime forager, a white-bearded man who goes by the nickname John the Poacher, often swings by the new-age bar after a day of hunting for ingredients in Hackney Marshes. He sits at the science lab-styled table lined with unbranded bottles of homemade alcohol, and chats to one of the friendly bartenders about what he’s found that day. It’s one reason Scout, even with its unusual (sometimes bewildering) menu and sleek minimalist charcoal furnishings, feels neither intimidating nor pretentious. Just the way Rich Woods, aka The Cocktail Guy, and Matt Whiley – who has mixed some of London’s most innovative drinks at Talented Mr Fox, Worship Street Whistling Shop and Purl – hoped when they relocated from their original site on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch last year. Scout is ranked 28th on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, and the pair prove it’s possible to be edgy and environmentally conscious at the same time, using seasonal produce, sourcing everything from the British Isles and trying to waste as little as possible. Always sticking to the bar’s motto: ‘live off the land.’

    DRINKS

    Served up on Weez & Merl marble-look coasters made from discarded plastic bags (the bar has saved 2,000 from a rubbish fate so far), the drink offerings at Scout are alternative. The menu is divided into three sections: Towns & Cities, which is made up of elements both foraged and salvaged from the capital; Freshwater & Marine, which focuses on coastal components; and Forests & Grasslands, which uses all kinds of land-based ingredients from around Britain. Enter sea urchin and salmon roe distillates, English wasabi and pineapple weed. There’s also a selection of seasonal ferments from rhubarb, jazz apples and Kent strawberries, as well as one called Honey + Toast that’s made using burnt sourdough and Norfolk honey. While these ingredients are bold, the flavours of both the cocktails and the ferments are soft, often floral and delicate, quite unlike anything you’ve tasted before.




    BAR SNACKS

    The new location on Hackney’s Graham Road has given Woods and Whiley the space to expand their experimentation too. They’ve whipped up chutney out of wasted tomatoes, which is served with a selection of delicious Neal’s Yard cheeses. A Scando Sando, inspired by Scaninavian open sandwiches, comes topped with pea puree, asparagus, grated horseradish and cured egg yolk. Also house-made is the mushroom jerky, with portobellos, apple cider, paprika and tamari, and the coffee butter (because normal butter is boring) that’s dished out with bread.

    VERDICT

    Scout proves there’s really no need to welly-off to the countryside to be at one with nature, you can hop right to it on the London Overground instead. By Emma Russell

    Address: Scout, 224 Graham Road, Hackney, London E8 1BP


    Telephone: +44 20 8985 5128


    Website: scout.bar

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Berkeley Bar & Terrace, Knightsbridge

    A super-slick new hangout turns the hotel-bar compass back to Knightsbridge


    When David Collins unveiled his jewel-box Blue Bar at The Berkeley in 2004, it quickly became one of the most stylish bars in London. The local drinking scene has changed a lot since then, preferring subterranean speakeasies and craft-ale pop-ups to stiff-collared hotel haunts. But now The Berkeley is mixing things up again with its newest addition, hidden away at the back of the building with possibly the most secret terrace in Knightsbridge. It is the first London hotel project for young-gun interior architect Bryan O’Sullivan of Bos Studio (in a fitting twist, he trained with Collins). And he has very much put his own stamp on it by designing every aspect of the space, from the half-moon, columned marble bar and chubby pumpkin pouffes to the walnut panels carved out of wood salvaged from a fallen tree on Lincolnshire’s Fulbeck Estate. A combination of the slick restraint of northern Italian design and the eye-for-detail of Deco, this beautiful space already feels like a modern classic, with a clubby atmosphere of popping corks.

    DRINK

    Staff in emerald-green velvet jackets pour those just-popped Laurent-Perrier and Gosset rosé Champagnes into chilled flutes. Cocktails go from hard (a punchy Sazerac, with cognac, rye whisky, absinthe and bitters) to refreshingly soft (the non-alcoholic Pink Pearl is a mix of pomelo, grapefruit and lime juices and grapefruit soda). Those in the know hole up in the snug, where New York-based artist TM Davy created an abstract, swirling mural of female faces above the powder-pink banquette (it’s inspired by the women-only nature of the original pub snugs). This is where you want to be; book it out, set up your own playlist on the speakers and close the bespoke wooden doors (you’ll only be disturbed when you press the button for service).

    BAR SNACKS

    Crab and lobster beignets and camembert-chicken tulips are served on a branch-like stand echoing the fallen walnut tree; Iberico ham toast is topped with salsa verde and lots of grated Manchego cheese; the supply of fat green olives and cheesy, crispy crackers is endless.

    VERDICT

    The bar at The Berkeley is the place to be. Again.

    Address: The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL


    Telephone:+44 20 7235 6000


    Website: the-berkeley.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Coupette, Bethnal Green

    The best French-accented bar in the East End has a rosy-cheeked new summer menu

    A Calvados bar, you might think, can only be found in a Normandy village, your glass topped by a demure Manon des Sources type while the occasional donkey ambles past sporting a pair of denim-blue culottes. To which, a Gallic shrug of indifference is needed. This bar opened in 2017 on the mean streets of Bethnal Green and is really the only place in London that takes Calvados and cider seriously, along with a line-up of other classic French serves. It’s the project of Chris Moore, the dashing former head barman at the Savoy’s excellent Beaufort Bar, who fancied a change of scene – a place to slip out of the jacket, put his favourite tracks on. Since opening, it’s carved out a reputation as one of the East End’s most idiosyncratic hangouts, with reliably assured cocktails. On a typical evening at Coupette (the name means ‘a cheeky one’ in French) you’ll find a roll call of young chefs and bar staff from all around town at the counter, which is lined with hundreds of 10-centime coins (gathered together, they may just about buy you a drink at the Beaufort).

    DRINKS

    The new bar menu is a lovely piece of Forties-style graphic design, created by local sign writer Ged Palmer, whose bold-faced work with the Luminor Sign Co can be seen around town at places such as Breddos Tacos, Loughborough Junction and Pentreath & Hall. Moore’s original menu celebrated all manner of French spirits and eau de vies, plucking out obscure names and building inventive cocktails around them. Perhaps the highlights were the simple Apples, which fizzed up a different Calvados each week – his collection lines the top shelf, the names reading like a Paris Saint-Germain line-up – and the Champagne Piña Colada, made with coconut sorbet and Moët. Don’t worry: both those are still on the menu, but they’re joined by creations such as the Bloody Martini, a greenhouse-fresh savoury hit made with grilled beef tomatoes which are then filtered for several hours, infused with paprika and mixed with vodka (obviously) and fortified vin jaune (less obviously). Then there’s the Strawberries and Cream, a puddingy, not-over-sweet concoction that brings together olive-oil-washed vodka, clarified milk, rose vermouth and strawberry eau de vie. It may look like a mere trifle, but it’s a deeply satisfying, sophisticated drink that knocks the pips off other punches. We’re saving the Watermelon Gimlet and Corn Collins for a follow-up trip.

    BAR SNACKS

    The French theme continues, with croque monsieur and salmon rillettes on the menu. But this is mainly about the cocktails – La Forchetta and the Japanese Canteen are well within striding distance if you need more ballast.

    VERDICT

    Some of the smartest cocktails in the East End – and the very best address in town to flirt with and develop a real appreciation of Calvados. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Coupette, 423 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 0AN


    Telephone: +44 20 7729 9562


    Website: coupette.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Double Standard, King’s Cross

    An eclectic retro hotel bar with surprisingly pubby snacks

    Mention The Standard hotel and people instantly think of its legendary bars: an opulent penthouse in New York City’s Chelsea and a new-wave gay bar in the East Village; a secret cocktail and cabaret spot in Los Angeles; and now, for the much-anticipated London outpost… a pub in King’s Cross. Well, that’s how the owners of the hotel chain are pitching Double Standard, which occupies half of the ground floor of the space, with a cosy little terrace out back away from the fray. But to call it a pub would just be plain wrong; it’s most definitely a bar – the second longest one in London, the brand claims – and feels a bit like stepping back into the 1970s. The Brutalist pillars of the former Camden Council building are complemented by the immersive retro interiors: squashy red-leather banquette seating; polished wood; velour seats; brown tiles; and net curtains, perfect for twitching. In fact, the whole place is great for people-watching – an evening could easily be spent wondering which guest is a famous music producer. A disco soundtrack gives it a strong party-spot vibe. If it all gets a bit much, retire next door for a strong nightcap in the library lounge, and relax on a low sofa while perusing an eclectic and tongue-in-cheek selection of ex-library books.

    DRINKS

    The cocktails here are classics with a knowing British twist: a G&Tea, a Chocolate Stout Martini and a Cider Spritz. There’s even an Earl Grey tea punch, just to remind visitors that they’re in London. They’re fun party cocktails to match the disco vibe, if a little too consistently sweet and fruity. This being a pub, there’s also Heineken and Guinness on tap, and several crafty options in the fridge. There’s a slightly different, more traditional menu in the library lounge next door including a wide whisky selection.

    BAR SNACKS

    Ex-Pachamama chef Adam Rawson has come up with a menu that mixes classic American and British comfort foods. The snacks section is the best: there’s a big pretzel with house mustard and parmesan, goujon-like fried chicken with aioli, and a herby Scotch egg with fennel tartare and dill mustard. There are also larger posh-pub plates such as burgers, fish and chips and mac and cheese. With this many carbs on offer, you won’t need to worry about lining your stomach.

    VERDICT

    It calls itself a pub, but it’s more the kind of Seventies California-style bar last seen in the final season of Mad Men. Which is more than all right by us. By Sonya Barber

    Address: Double Standard, The Standard, 10 Argyle Street, London WC1H


    Telephone: +44 3981 8888


    Website: standardhotels.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Lady of the Grapes, Covent Garden

    A classic wine bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Montmartre – but isn’t trying too hard

    Parisian Carole Bryon opened this dinky pillar-box-red wine bar on one of Covent Garden’s quieter streets in 2018. Growing up in a foodie family, she took a series of sommelier courses in her thirties and soon noticed the gender inequality in the industry, from the prevalence of male winemakers and suppliers to the tendency of customers to gravitate towards male sommeliers rather than women. Opening Lady of the Grapes, she made a commitment to showcasing wines predominantly from women makers, producers and sellers. Inside all is deep wood and exposed brick, candlelit, with floor-to-ceiling shelves stacked full of bottles. Grab a window seat at the narrow bench table – the windows are often thrown open to let in hits of fresh air, and the charming European waiters hop outside to take your order through the window rather than squeezing between the crammed-together tables inside.

    DRINKS

    Wines are all organic and biodynamic, and the bar supports smaller producers – remember that when it comes to the prices. This isn’t a spot for a cheap red – glasses start at around £8, while bottles go from £26 and increase quickly. The list is carefully curated by Bryon and her team; we tried a classic Provençal rosé which was pale and summery, with notes of orange blossom and peony. Unusual wines sit alongside more traditional options, so there’s orange wine from Slovakia and a Pinot Noir from Oregon in the USA, for example. The long list of reds is perfect for a cosy night hiding away from Covent Garden’s thrum and we recommend the Villa Calcinaia Classico, a Chianti that’s oaky and fruity.

    SNACKS

    What is wine without cheese? Thankfully that’s a question you don’t have to ponder here, as the cheese menu is nearly as varied as the wine list. Order a selection of creamy, firm Comté, soft, truffled Caciotta and Fourme D’ambert blue – a trio of choices comes with a crusty baguette and fruit. If you’re hungry, add some charcuterie to your order – we liked the Italian smoked speck and the Basque chorizo. And while you’re at it, why not go for some plump olives, bread (a basket of sourdough, spelt and walnut served with Normandy salted butter) and meltingly soft anchovies.

    VERDICT

    You could easily leave this bar without realising you’ve been in a woman-owned and supporting spot – and that’s half of the charm. Go to support a good cause, and stay because it’s cosy, unpretentious and delicious. By Sarah James

    Address: Lady of the Grapes, 16 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NJ


    Telephone: +44 20 7836 4152


    Website: ladyofthegrapes.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Cattivo, Brixton

    A mischievous osteria-style bar in SW9

    The third opening by Albion & East, the bar group behind Martello Hall in London Fields and Canova Hall in Brixton, is sure to invite armies of 20-somethings with its signature industrial touches and house gin. Interiors here stick to the template set out at previous halls – exposed brick, steel pipes and cement features – but they come with an Italian accent, which gives it substantially more sex appeal. The name itself is flirtatious – cattivo means wicked – and the basement hosts cabaret nights, private parties and groups of friends spending hours playing the latest version of Cards Against Humanity. With its sky-high ceilings and windows trimmed with midnight-blue velvet bolts as thick as theatre curtains, the ground floor feels discreet but not pretentiously so. Prohibition-era touches such as vintage posters and a copper gin still play up to the feeling of being somewhere naughty-but-nice, and we’ll be eager to see how Albion & East mixes it up for its fourth instalment, Serata, opening on Old Street in March 2019.

    DRINKS

    Produced in the copper still and shaken by sharp-collared, moustached men at the corrugated iron bar, the small-batch gin cocktails are sip-and-sigh goodness. The In House is a thirst-quenching pre-dinner drink made from kirsch, Chambord, maraschino syrup and elderflower tonic, giving a cucumber-cool flavour. The rest of the list is quirky and original, but do go off-menu, the bartenders can more than handle it – the Espresso Martinis and Sidecars are excellent. That said, the Smoky Old Fashioned is an admirable take on a classic.

    FOOD

    The aromas coming from the open kitchen had us reaching for the menu before we even took our seats. The aperitivo snacks are excellent, from Parmesan crisps with lemon mayo to pea, potato and pecorino crochettas (order a plate each, one to share isn’t enough); they are crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, topped with giant salt flakes. A dollop of burrata or the butternut squash, radicchio and pomegranate salad make for very good light bites, and the deep-fried courgette flower is a pimped-up version of the standard dish, stuffed with creamy goats’ cheese and honey, which will dribble down your chin no matter how elegantly you try to eat it.

    VERDICT

    We might well be back here soon for bottomless brunch or late-night bingo – after all, there is no rest for the cattivo. Anna Prendergast

    Address: Cattivo, 207 Ferndale Road, Brixton, London SW9 8BA


    Telephone: +44 20 3096 2236


    Website: cattivobar.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Clifford’s Bar

    It’s not often you see a chef in her whites swinging a shaker behind the bar as deftly as Tom Cruise in Cocktail. But when the head bartender at Clifford’s left, chef-owner Gemma Ellis decided to teach herself the art of mixology. Then again, this underground bar on the site of a historic 14th-century inn turns out to be not what you’d expect in many ways. Entering from street level, you pass a backlit stained-glass window of St Pius on the stairs then, behind a heavy velvet curtain, the bar itself is filled with candles and chunky wooden furniture. A floor-to-length dresser displays Ellis’s colourful pickles and preserves: ‘samphire we had left over in the kitchen’; house-made mincemeat stewing till Christmas.

    THE DRINKS

    The interiors might be rustic but those cocktails Ellis whips up are surprisingly refined. Combining her knowledge of flavours and ferments, she has come up with an innovative cocktail menu that could rival that of much flashier establishments. The house-special Tomartini is a twist on the classic with the clean, clear addition of tomato consommé, chilli and lemon. While the Ma’am Est Malade is lickably sweet-sour, with gin, lillet, marmalade and angostura bitters. The best thing about the cocktails here are that they change all the time depending on what chef has in the larder – so repeat visits will never disappoint. On the bar right now is a giant Kilner jar of grapefruit-cello, gin infused with rhubarb ready for her next signature cocktail, and even vodka spiked with Fisherman’s Friend. Ellis jokes that this was an experiment, one she came up with when she was looking to create a humbug cocktail, but couldn’t find the stripy sweets. Cough loudly enough and she might let you have a taste.

    THE FOOD

    Ellis’s background includes the Michelin-starred Harwood Arms and her main menu of straight-up retro classics has such back-in-favour classics as prawn cocktails and duck à l’orange, with a focus on bigging up British produce. Among the equally hearty bar snacks there are ham-and-cheese croquettes that ooze with two types of cheddar and Welsh Baron Bigod and come with a nicely tangy barbecue sauce. There are also three types of gyozas: deep-fried duck versions; little pan stickers filled with venison; and rib-sticking beef shin, served with soy dipping sauces. Best of the lot is the chef’s special of smoked cod’s roe: a breaded and deep-fried egg, its centre perfectly runny and orange-bright, sitting on top of potato whipped through with roe, that has just the right blend of fishy-smokiness.

    THE VERDICT

    As far from a soul-less, buttoned-up City bar as you can get. This hidden den feels like you’ve tumbled into a country village and no one has to worry about working late.

    By Grainne McBride

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Green Room at Casa do Frango, London Bridge

    A secret bar serving up Portuguese favourites

    The only way you’ll find The Green Room is by entering Casa do Frango, a Portuguese piri piri chicken shop that’s been a recent hit with a young crowd looking for a (serious) upgrade on Nando’s. Enter through the heavy curtain at the back of the restaurant and you’ll instantly feel like you’ve discovered one of London’s insider spots. There’s a vaulted ceiling lit by grand chandeliers, Peruvian rugs, palm trees and ferns hanging off shelves (hence the name). Grab one of the four turquoise velvet bar stools or nab a comfy sofa at a candlelit table.

    DRINKS

    On the cocktail menu you’ll find a Caipirinha, Espresso Martini, Negroni, Old Fashioned and plenty more. And if you don’t see the classic you’re looking for, the bartenders will be on hand to whip up your trusted go-to drink. But there’s more than a handful of bars serving the standards, so we suggest you try a speciality. The most popular of these, the Café do Amor – made with white chocolate vanilla cream liqueur, Baileys, Stoli Vanil Vodka, coffee and sugar – is the perfect pudding drink if you’ve come straight from a plate of chicken and chips. The Green Room Special, meanwhile, a blend of Belvedere Vodka, St-Germain Elderflower, mint, lemon, sugar and soda offers a sour but refreshing mix of flavours. For those not looking for a cocktail, there’s a hand-picked selection of interesting Portuguese wines and beers.

    SNACKS

    Portuguese small plates, known as petiscos, are prepared in the kitchen at Casa do Frango, giving you a taster of what’s served next-door. Order a selection: grilled chorizo, crispy artichoke and aioli. We particularly loved the bacalhau (salt cod) and chickpea fritters.

    VERDICT

    A secret worth sharing. By Sophie Knight

    Address: The Green Room, 1st floor (through the hidden door at Casa do Frango), 32 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TU


    Telephone: +44 203 972 2323


    Website: casadofrango.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Original Sin, Stoke Newington

    Hip spot on Stoke Newington High Street

    Behind the scenes

    Hipster winds from the east have been a-blowing into Stoke Newington for a while; now Hoxton’s best bar Happiness Forgets, has an outpost amid the hubbub and kebabery of the High Street. At the original, Ali Burgess has created an assured basement den for straightforward but seriously well-made cocktails, served fast and icy cold. The attitude is the same at Original Sin, although it has more space to play with — leather booths along one bare-brick wall, and plenty of standing room — and the actual bar is long enough to recreate that famous Johnny Boy tracking shot from Mean Streets. It sure looks good through a sepia filter. The highlight is the American pool table — a rare treat in London bars these days. And it’s free.

    Drink

    Gin and vodka are rarely on the menu — instead, there are lots of lighter aperitifs in the mix (sherries, vermouths, Kamm & Sons and Suze, made from gentian). Try The Comeback, invented by Portuguese bar-slinger Constancia using Cognac, apricot, maple syrup, apple vinegar and a kiss of Fernet Branca.

    Bar snacks

    Just nuts. But you can grab a burger at Stokey Bears upstairs or nip around the corner for fried chicken at the new Foxlow on Church Street.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: 129 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16


    Telephone: +44 20 7241 4148


    Website: originalsin.bar

  • The best bars in London right now

    Pamela, Dalston

    Oyster-shucking beach babe in Dalston

    For anyone who’s ever dreamed of a bar inspired by Nineties icon Pamela Anderson (we know you’re out there), the wait is over. Launched by a gang of six founders whose combined experience covers some of Dalston’s most infamous after-dark haunts — Alibi, Birthdays, Rita’s — Pamela opened last May and is carving a very specific niche on the upper reaches of Kingsland Road. Yet while the Baywatch star is namechecked on the menu and festooned across the wall, Pamela the bar has its own, easy-going personality thanks to the surf-rock playlists, engaging staff, outdoor seats and recent addition of Decatur’s soul-food kitchen.

    DRINK

    The characterful menu showcases the team’s in-house infusions. Negroni fans should try the Mitch Buchannon (£8.50), a blend of mint-tinged brandy, Campari and citrus, while in-the-know locals demand ‘the green one’ — aka the vivid Des Barres (£8.50) — made with jalapeno-spiked vodka, kiwi juice and coconut ice cubes. Elsewhere, picklebacks, snakebite-and-blacks and Pammy limoncellos stand out among more standard choices.

    BAR SNACKS

    Recently graduating from pop-up kitchen to permanent residence, Decatur’s Louisiana-influenced soul food is a major feather in Pamela’s swim cap. The charred okra (£6.50), chicken wings (£7) and hearty, Cajun-spiced crawfish étoufée (£12.50) are worthy reasons to stop by — although its must-try signature is undoubtedly the melt-in-the-mouth chargrilled oysters (six for £12), glistening in garlic butter and fiery Crystal sauce.

    By Ben Olsen

    Address: Pamela, 428 Kingsland Road, London E8


    Telephone: +44 20 7686 3212


    Website: pamelabar.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Coin Laundry, Clerkenwell

    A boozy blast from the past in Exmouth Market

    There’s not much chance of going thirsty on Exmouth Market these days. Once the rum-shaking Cottons, this corner hangout is now in thrall to the Seventies — though not in a by-the-book Life on Marsway. So there’s chicken kiev and Babycham on the menu, red and yellow Formica tables, school chairs, a pinball machine and the occasional pineapple; but no Athena posters, platform boots or Watneys Red Barrel. Exmouth Market’s food scene can be a tad earnest — this is a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously and attracts a young crowd for whom the 1970s must (sob) seem like the Dark Ages.

    DRINK

    When the Sodastream cocktail trend drenches the nation, blame Coin Laundry. Actually, the Pear Rickey (gin, rum or Scotch, with a squirt of pear-and-clove) is really tasty. As for the pudding-rich Snowball and Grasshopper (mint liqueur, cream, chocolate), one will be enough — then move on to a more grown-up house Americano or PX sherry cocktail. Novelty factor aside, there’s a sense that everything here has been really well thought out — right down to the off-the-beaten-track beers (try the Yeastie Boys brews from New Zealand).

    BAR SNACKS

    Former Hix chef Nik Prescott has created a cheekily inventive menu that reinvents arancini as spag-bol croquettes and Yorkshire puddings as chocolately profiteroles, as well as briny cockle popcorn, spam fritters and — unusually — rabbit balti pie. And there are few more satisfying moments in English gastronomy than when garlic butter oozes like molten lava out of an ample chicken kiev.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: Coin Laundry, 70 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, London EC1


    Telephone: +44 20 7485 9209


    Website: coinlaundry.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Little Bat, Islington

    Lewis Carroll-inspired neighbourhood superhero

    This bar fluttered by last winter as a pop-up but has now settled at this off-Upper Street address. Cocktail adventurers will no doubt be familiar with its fancy-dress-loving sibling Callooh Callay in Shoreditch, which is accessed through a wardrobe and has Panini-style sticker albums for menus. This also sports a Lewis Carroll-inspired name but is little more reined in — Shrewd Hatter rather than mad, although watch out for the rubber ducks. Set behind a sombre, white-curtained front, it’s a long, narrow space with a sweeping, wooden-topped bar, comfy Chesterfields, pineapple lamps, vintage tomes on floating shelves, a line-up of neon-bright Pure Evil artwork and a Photomat booth at the back. Islington already has the endlessly inventive 69 Colebrooke Row, of course, and the Dead Dolls House, but Little Bat is the swing-by, neighbourhood cocktail hangout the area really needed, with most drinks around the £9 mark.

    DRINK

    You’ll find beetroot, dill and Newcastle Brown Ale among the ingredients, but as head barman Barney Toy says, there’s ‘nothing too scary’ here. He’s from Sheffield via Auckland’s Gin Room bar and has created a well-balanced mix of new creations and impeccable classics served in anything from Japanese green-tea cups to vintage coupes. The menu’s strong on fizzes and sours — they must get through more eggs than Mr Strong — and you can keep Barney happy by ordering his delicious Pan Am (rum, Aperol, lemon juice and egg white), a Bacardi competition finalist. But also try the punchy, top-of-the-bill Steve McQueen (bourbon with cherry liqueur, Martini Rosso and cherry brandy) and the theatrical Smoking Jack, a lovely leafpeeping concoction with applejack, maple syrup and cognac.

    BAR SNACKS

    Scoop up handfuls of Marmite popcorn, although that won’t keep the wolf from the door — the comfort-food menu also includes roast pulled pork, mac’n’cheese pots, home-made sausage rolls and fried chicken.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: 54 Islington Park Road, Islington, London N1


    Telephone: +44 20 7359 6070


    Website: littlebatbar.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Satan’s Whiskers, Bethnal Green

    Neighbourhood cocktail bar with an old-school hip-hop soundtrack

    Satan’s Whiskers is one of those bars that bartenders at the world’s top bars speak of. Despite its less-than-lovely location on Cambridge Heath Road, the bar serves some of the best cocktails not just in London, but the world. Marked only by a red neon sign above the door, the bar is stuffed with tongue-in-cheek taxidermy (look out for the smoking monkey and cocktail-shaking raccoon) and vintage spirits posters, and there are little devils cut into the bar top. The cocktail bar’s namesake has a gin-and-juice base and the stereo plays banger after banger by Golden Age greats such as Biggie Smalls, Q-Tip and, of course, Snoop — the only complaint is that you can’t get up and dance.

    DRINK

    The cocktail menu always has a few new surprises but you can count on classics such as the French 75 and Satan’s Manhattan (with Knob Creek rye whisky) to be there. You may also have the chance to try the Negroni with prosecco and a Salty Dog with vodka, pink grapefruit and pink salt. Hurricanes are served with blown-inside-out brollies and the East 8 Hold Up (vodka, Aperol, fresh pineapple and lime) is super-summery.

    BAR SNACKS

    There’s nothing dainty on the menu: sole goujons, sweet potato fries, whopping burgers and whole baked camembert.

    By Hazel Lubbock

    Address: Satan’s Whiskers, 343 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London E2


    Telephone: +44 20 7739 8362


    Website: twitter.com/satans_whiskers

  • The best bars in London right now

    Sager + Wilde Paradise Row, Bethnal Green

    Punchy cocktails on Bethnal Green’s buzzy Paradise Row

    Sager-Wilde has become an oenological empire in London’s E2 postcode. The original and much-loved Sager + Wilde wine bar on Hackney Road was followed up with California-inspired Mission on Bethnal Green’s hippest strip, Paradise Row, in 2014. Now Mission has been transformed and renamed Sager + Wilde Paradise Row. The cavernous railway arch comes complete with exposed brickwork, vintage decor and the rumbling of passing trains, with a summer-friendly terrace out front and a low-lit, conspiratorial cocktail lounge hidden up above the restaurant. Keep it in mind for any upcoming date ideas – we think it’s one of the most romantic bars in London.

    DRINK

    The emphasis has shifted from Californian wine to cocktails. Bartender Marcis Dzelzainis pairs Waning Moon saké with vodka, caraway liqueur and a caperberry in The Tokyo Bullet, a shimmering take on a martini. A list of milk cocktails, far from channelling The Big Lebowski, use clarified milk to add a subtle, lactic balance to big-hitting flavours while a separate Old-Fashioned menu starring toasted coconut and olive oil is worthy of serious attention.

    BAR SNACKS

    Former Chiltern Firehouse chef Sebastien Myers’s eye-catching bar-snack menu includes chicken-liver pate and grape served in pink radicchio, scallop with a punchy XO sauce and brioche and, for those still seeking a rice-wine fix, a delicate saké cream. There’s also a full restaurant menu.

    By Ben Olsen

    Address: Sager + Wilde, Arch 250, Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, London E2


    Telephone: + 44 20 7613 0478


    Website: sagerandwilde.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Behind This Wall, Hackney

    Secret spot on Mare Street

    This secret little spot at the top of Mare Street is not really behind a wall, but rather down a narrow staircase in a space previously occupied by a Turkish social club. Now the vibe is more hip-meets-zen with minimalist, Japanese-inspired styling in the pale-wood booths, white-tiled counter, black ceiling and vases of eucalyptus sprigs. The team behind this place are known for their vinyl-loving club nights and last summer’s residency at the Oval Space arts venue down the road, so the stonking Tannoy Gold sound-system of the late Joy Division producer Martin Hannett is the talking point in this, their first permanent bar, pumping out classic disco and Afro-funk.

    DRINKS

    Could there be a more perfect cocktail than a mezcal Negroni? Pale and punchy, it’s pimped up with a sprig of thyme. Then again, there’s also the Ramos Gin Fizz, shaken dry (without ice) for two minutes, then with it for three — Ryan the barman jokes that he’s developing Popeye arms — to create a deliciously rich and grapefruity drink that’ll make you nostalgic for childhood ice-cream floats.

    BAR SNACKS

    In keeping with this joint’s neighbourhood ethos, the plump and briny oysters are from local fishmonger Fin and Flounder and come with Japanese chilli, pickle juice and yuzu pearls. Fat green olives and melting Iberico ham are from the Spanish deli around the corner. Finish it all off with a verdita shooter: mezcal and green juice, so almost good for you — right?

    By Grainne McBride

    Address: Behind This Wall, 411 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8


    Telephone: +44 7857 796847


    Website: behindthiswall.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Untitled, Dalston

    Creative cocktails from a master mixologist in East London

    Tony Conigliaro is the Heston Blumenthal of the drinks world, and his alco-alchemist wizardry has garnered a cult London following since the opening of noir-like 69 Colebrooke Row and Soho speakeasy Bar Termini, both beloved bars in London. Using blowtorches, bain-maries, centrifuges and vacuum distillation, he’s been known to spend years researching and testing his concoctions before they appear on a menu. This, his latest spot on Dalston’s Kingsland Road, is his most experimental yet. Inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory, the silver, studio-like space has nude close-up photographs propped up against shiny foil-papered walls that reflect the industrial strip lights. The playful Greek god Pan sits at the head of a giant concrete slab of a table and electro beats play softly in the background. It might sound a little pretentious, but stick around and you’ll be proved wrong.

    DRINKS

    Before being handed the shrink-wrapped drinks list, everyone is offered a Wish — which turns out to be a petal-like palate-cleanser of dehydrated gel infused with beetroot, raspberry and rose. The cryptic menu doesn’t give away much: each drink (all under a tenner) is labelled by a single word that evokes its name. The trick here is to either play cocktail roulette by pointing blindly at a drink, or ask one of the cheery and well-informed staff for a few more clues. Mineral-tasting Snow (distilled with clay, chalk and enoki mushrooms) is light and scentless, designed to remind you of running outside and catching snowflakes on your tongue. A syrupy and lip-smacking Habana (dark rum, molasses and rooibos) feels like a walk through hot and hazy Cuba. For a real flavour punch try the Violin (oak, pine, beeswax, benzoin and black pepper), which is resinous and woody on the nose with a sweet and mellow finish.

    BAR SNACKS

    Less snacky, more kaiseki — multi-course Japanese small plates — and all created to match the cocktails. There are enough delicious dishes to turn things into a full-on meal (book a table on the mezzanine level, if you do want to eat). The cold udon noodles in a citrusy ponzu broth with crispy bits of batter and grated daikon radish is a refreshing hit. Sweet cherry tomatoes cured in salty miso are presented in a bowl of cool consommé and topped with tangy yuzu peel, nailing that moreish umami flavour. A dessert highlight: the mini tempura balls, which explode with molten chocolate when bitten into. Pop one in your mouth whole — it’s perfectly bite-sized — or things could get messy.

    By Roxy Mirshahi

    Address: Untitled, 538 Kingsland Rd, London E8


    Telephone: +447841 022924


    Website: untitled-bar.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Wigmore, Regent Street

    A reinvented English pub with grown-up tastes

    A mere 152 years after hitting on the avant-garde idea of serving afternoon tea and spawning a hushed-tinkle succession of befronded palm courts, London’s Langham (one of the best hotels in London) has come up with the quite brilliant concept of opening its own pub. The hotel is more used to picking up awards for its Artesian cocktail bar, but in an age where the English boozer has become an endangered species, this is a welcome move. It’s set on the corner of Wigmore Street, hence the name, in the former spa space (originally a banking hall), with a ceiling as high as you could throw a pickled egg, a green livery as smart as a squire’s hunting jacket, and sofas lined with strokeable mohair and silks — all designed by Martin Brudnizki. Find a space in the main bar or one of the two rooms just off it, perfect for a post-work snifter or lunchtime session.

    DRINKS

    In Orwell’s essay on what makes the perfect English pub, ‘The Moon Under Water’, he reckoned that creamy stout in pewter pots, an absence of sham ingle-nooks and motherly barmaids were a few of the requirements. The Wigmore, at least, has pewter pots and creamy ales, chalked up on a board at the bar. The house saison (made with Bermondsey’s Brew by Numbers) is lemony light with an almost meringue-like foam. But if hops don’t appeal, there is Bacchus white from Hampshire and Côte du Rhone on tap. Plenty of interest on the cocktail front, too, with beer Hoptails (try the Season of the Witch, lager with sloe gin), house lemonades that can be turned into Tom Collins at the tilt of a bottle, and a whole list of historical classics, such as Hanky Panky and Brigadoon. You can even compare and contrast a London gin and tonic with its Spanish counterpart, the gintonica.

    BAR SNACKS

    Pub grub has been given the Michel Roux Jr. treatment, all non-fiddly and quick to arrive. There’s a cheese toastie the size of a small trampoline, a hearty ox-cheek-and-ale pie, and mains such as cauliflower kedgeree and roast chicken. For a crunchy snack with your beer, go for the ox-tongue chips and little hedgehoggy Scotch eggs, spiced with masala and nuzzling a dahl dip.

    THE VERDICT

    Hard to imagine this working 10 years ago, before the renaissance in British craft ales and cocktails, but this is a well-mannered pub with an enviable location (and a late license till 1 on the best going-out nights).

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: The Wigmore, 15 Langham Place, Regent Street, London W1B 3DE


    Telephone: +44 20 7965 0198


    Website: the-wigmore.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Bar Termini, London

    Old Compton Street’s coolest cocktail bar

    Bar Termini is the brainchild of cocktail king Tony Conigliaro (Untitled, 69 Colebrook Row) and Illy coffee’s Marco Arrigo. And so, what they’ve created is an authentic Italian pit stop, named after Rome’s main train station, that draws on-the-go city folk from first thing in the morning to late at night. Grab an espresso and pastry on your way to work, then come back in the evening and pull up a stool at the marble-topped bar and let dapper waiters in white jackets and black ties mix up some of the best cocktails in town.

    DRINK

    Conigliario’s famous Negronis are pre-made, aged and served (chilled, but without ice) in tiny custom glasses — making it all the easier to get through the extensive list of them. As well as the super-smooth Classico, there’s a pink-peppercorn-infused Superiore, a rose-petal Rosato and a caramel-y Robusto. And the bottles, beautifully illustrated by tattoo artist Mo Coppoletta, are available to take home too. Those looking for something a little lighter should try the Spritz Termini, made with rhubarb cordial, gin, Aperol and prosecco, or a delicate and delightful Bellini with peach puree and almond blossom.

    BAR SNACKS

    Gossip with friends while grazing the simple menu: plates of wafer-thin beef carpaccio, coppa and prosciutto crudo; hunks of the finest Parmesan and pecorino, and creamy buffalo mozzarella; burrata served with tomatoes and traditional Sardinian flat bread pane carasau.

    THE VERDICT

    The menus are short and straightforward so you can’t really go wrong — this is London’s perfect aperitivo bar.

    By Tabitha Joyce

    Address: Bar Termini, 7 Old Compton Street, London W1D 5JE;


    Telephone: +44 7860945018;


    Website: bar-termini.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    SEXY FISH, MAYFAIR

    Show-boating Berkeley Square bar that’s hooked itself a new zero-waste menu

    This extravagant, glad-ragging bar opened in 2015 and immediately turned heads, not least because of that name. It’s owned by the gilt-plated Richard Caring, he of Annabel’s and The Ivy, but this is a bar that could easily have been steered by Captain Nemo, the mysterious anti-hero of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, who roamed the ocean depths in his incredible Nautilus collecting pearls and fine art as well as some avant-garde marine recipes. At Sexy Fish’s ground-floor restaurant and bar, look: there’s a Formica crocodile by Frank Gehry, and come-hither bronze mermaids by Damien Hirst; red lava stone and Iranian onyx. The basement bar is the place to shore up at if you can, lit by flickering reflections from two huge, coral-lined fishtanks containing 100 finny species of Louboutin-coloured sea life; but otherwise pull up a stool at the counter upstairs. Designed by wonderboy Martin Brudnizki, it’s a place of conspicuous consumption, but someone’s clearly been watching Blue Planet II: the new bar menu is inspired by the zero-waste movement (Cub, Nine Lives), using no perishables, replacing citrus with homemade tinctures and shrubs, and utilising certain offcuts from the food menu, such as vanilla pod skins and even fish.


    DRINKS

    Much like The Langham’s Artesian, this is a bar where many choose their drinks based purely on the shape of the serve. The Neonach, for example, is encased in red faux coral and looks like an award for Best Mermaid of the Year (the actual drink? Salmon-infused gin with basil and fennel cordial and chilli oil. Not too fishy but lightly smoked). The Monolith is a metal gourd with a chilled stone in it, instead of an ice cube, and a punchy mix of rum with thyme and camomile syrup. But our highlight was the Sancho Panza, served in a copper glass, with sansho-pepper-infused rum, lemongrass and umeboshi (pickled plum) paste: tongue-tinglingly fresh and quite unlike any cocktail we’ve ever tasted – something even Nemo might be surprised by. If you have the right ingredients at home, you can buy the recipe book and even the glassware to whip up there.


    SNACKS

    Pick something from the late-night menu: a California roll or two, salt-and-pepper squid, perhaps, or a prawn gyoza.


    VERDICT

    An underwater Mayfair hideaway where you’re unlikely to be attacked by a giant squid unless you ask for a plastic straw.

    By Rick Jordan


    Address: Sexy Fish, Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London W1J 6BR


    Website: sexyfish.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    George’s Bar at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, King’s Cross

    Grown-up flavours and an elegant redesign minutes from the station

    Hidden away from the crowds of St Pancras and King’s Cross is a secret spot in a historic English bar. Starry chef Marcus Wareing has joined forces with bar manager Dav Eames to create an exciting list of cocktails, and of course some top-notch bar snacks too. Named after the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, this place has the feel of an Art Deco café, as is the signature look of designers David Collins Studio (The Wolseley, The Delaunay) who have made the most of the building’s opulent archways, gilded golden walls, and Corinthian columns.


    DRINKS

    You won’t find any classic tipples here. Instead, every month the menu features a creative new cocktail. For March, it was the Bee Keeper, a twist on the Bee’s Knees, which used lavender-infused gin, sloe gin, lemon, hibiscus, elderflower and honey from Melfort Farm in Kent (another Wareing project). For April, it’s the Frapin French 75, a mix of Frapin 1270 Cognac, fresh lemon, and Gosset Brut Excellence Champagne. Those with a sweet tooth will want to try the fruity A-Pear-Itif, made with Sipsmith gin, Grey Goose pear vodka, cucumber, lime and elderflower. And for the die-hard liquor lovers, A Pocket Full of Rye (Rittenhouse rye whiskey, orange marmalade, bitters) resembles an Old Fashioned but be warned: it is twice the size and packs some serious flavours.


    BAR SNACKS

    Order the toasted sourdough, which comes with a salty-yet-sweet chorizo jam to soak up the generous measures. The crisp-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside smoked potato and gruyére croquettes with a grainy mustard emulsion are very good too. If you’re after more than a snack and can bear the 20-minute wait, opt for the beef burger. It comes with triple-cooked fries, which will leave you rolling out the revolving door on your way home.


    VERDICT

    A brilliant spot to know if you’ve got time to kill before catching a train.

    By Katharine Sohn

    Address: George’s Bar, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, London NW1 2AR


    Telephone: + 44 20 7278 3888


    Website: georgesbar.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Waeska Bar at the Mandrake Hotel, Fitzrovia

    The West End’s most show-stopping hotel bar has a new plant-based cocktail menu

    The Mandrake rotated a few heads when it opened at the end of 2017, not least from London’s creative world, who pounced on it as a home-from-home during Fashion Week (Jourdan Dunn and Johnny Depp have been spotted here, and Vogue editor Edward Enninful is virtually a regular). It’s a fizzy, immersive montage of European arthouse film, modern-art gallery and perfume bottle, set down a club-like passageway off Fitzrovia’s Newman Street and guarded by a showgirl ostrich made from recycled handbags, shoes and coats. There’s tattoo art inked on the lift walls, a candlelit candelabra in the lobby, two huge rainforest palms from New Zealand in the outdoor courtyard and cascading jasmine from the terrace above. But one of the highlights is the cocktail bar, which is dominated by another fabulous creation by artist Enrique Gomez de Molina – a shimmering peacock/deer creature poised in mid leap above the bottles of spirits.

    DRINKS

    With these sort of surroundings and a name that references the trippy ayahuasca ritual, a normcore cocktail list was never going to cut the mustard. Riffing on mandrake – a root known to necromancers and early doctors for its hallucinogenic and medical qualities – Walter Pintus (formerly at the Ritz and The Connaught) has created an intriguing Ethnobotany menu that draws on esoteric herbs and plants such as blue skullcap (the seeds used to make tea, mixed with whisky) and hemp (used to wash Brazilian cachaça and mixed with sorrel ice cream, yellow Chartreuse and basil soda, a stand-out concoction). The menu includes a brandy Alexander-ish wooden cup of pudding-rich sherry, betel-nut milk and cognac, but lighter drinks include the Passion Flower, a Champagne cocktail with fruity, flowery notes, and more subtle depth comes from creations such as the nutty Palo Santo, adding kola and lime to tequila, and the lovely Calamos (gin with a vermouth-like spin using a bitter Asian root, calamus, along with blood-orange sake and grapefruit bitters), topped with an oregano flower. It’s like an alcoholic apothecary, with liquors infused and syrups boiled by the staff, and gives new impulse to the old ‘drinking for medicinal purposes’ excuse.

    BAR SNACK

    While you’re here, chew the fat (or a mouthful of pan con tomate) with Celia, the Cordoba-born bartender who’s as entertaining as the decor. Other flavour-packed small plates include oysters with Champagne granita, nicely tangy tandoori octopus, shrimp and avocado tempura, along with cute little cubes formed of tapioca and parmesan.

    THE VERDICT

    A surreal bubble of a bar that’s an escapist antidote to West End malaise.

    By Rick Jordan.

    Address: The Mandrake, 20-21 Newman Street, London W1T 1PG


    Website: themandrake.com


    Telephone: +44 20 3146 7770

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Lost Alpaca, Covent Garden

    A bar that feels like a backstage pass to one of the West End’s best restaurants

    Within two years of opening LIMA in Fitzrovia, Virgilio Martínez had earned the first Michelin star ever to be awarded to a Peruvian restaurant. Spearheading the popularisation of South American gastronomy, he went on to open a second outpost, LIMA Floral, in Covent Garden. Four years later, the basement bar at Floral has been transformed from the restaurant’s overspill area into a destination in its own right. By happy accident, I managed to invite someone who’s been to Peru twice. The first time, she complained of deep-fried guinea pigs and food poisoning. The second, she returned with excited tales of new restaurants, cocktails so sour they make your eyes water, and bars on the beach that make you want to bury your toes in the sand and outstay your welcome. It seems she isn’t the only one older and wiser; its foodie scene is surfing a new wave of curious chefs who are using local produce to put Peru on the map, this time for the right reasons (guinea pigs be gone). Channelling this youthful energy, The Lost Alpaca is a low-lit space that feels like a grown-up version of a gap-year bar, with a mix of reclaimed timber, exposed brick walls, graffiti and graphic tiles.

    DRINKS

    Co-founder Gabriel Gonzalez spotted a gap in the market for a cocktail bar in Covent Garden, which has some great restaurants but not so many great bars. The classic Pisco Sour is frothy, zesty and smooth, and shaken over lots of ice – exactly as it should be. We also fell for the Evita, a sparkling, fruity mix of vanilla Pisco, passionfruit, mango, rose syrup and Prosecco, made all the sweeter by the finishing touch, an edible flower, a nod to the restaurant upstairs. For something considerably less saccharine, the El Chapo mixes dark, spicy rum, grapefruit, lime and Aji Amarillo, a Peruvian chilli paste that packs a powerful, peppery kick. This kingpin is not for the faint-hearted, as the combination of sour and spicy will have you involuntarily pulling faces and more than one will have you slurring broken Spanish to the unsuspecting bartenders.

    BAR SNACKS

    Upstairs, Lima Floral takes its food seriously with challenging dishes of ceviche, tiradito and suckling pig, but the idea behind The Lost Alpaca is to loosen the grip a little. The sweet potato cakes look simple enough, but topped with a herby Arequipan sauce called Ocopa, they quickly became a favourite. We couldn’t resist the yuca fries – a curious, starchy root vegetable – which felt healthier than their French counterparts and were served with Huancaina dip, a Peruvian spicy cheese sauce, or the dense, nutty square of Cuzco corn cake (which looks like a pudding, but isn’t). Sadly, the breaded cheese stick tequeños were so popular on the night we visited that there were none left – but we’ll be returning to try them before long.


    VERDICT

    Fun, authentic finger food with serious flavour and tropical cocktails that make you feel like you’re on a whistlestop tour of Peru’s coast. By Anna Prendergast

    Address: The Lost Alpaca, 14 Garrick Street, London, WC2E 9BJ


    Telephone: +44 20 7240 5778


    Website: lostalpaca.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Bluecoats, Tottenham

    A handsome neighbourhood pub pitched at old and new Tottenham

    If you came to Tottenham six months ago you’d be hard pushed to find a pub that strayed too far from a line-up of taps pouring the usual big-brewery suspects, average food and football on the TV. That has changed with the opening of The Bluecoats. Originally a Victorian girls’ school (and a dress factory, restaurant, carpet shop, wedding-dress fitters and, up until recently, a rowdy match-day pub in between), it’s been restored and spruced up by local boy Jamie Rule and Louis Hyams (of Night Tales) together with Tom Gibson, who is also behind Dalston cocktail bar Ruby’s.

    Spurred on by the building of a new Tottenham stadium a stone’s throw from the front door, its current incarnation has nods to its tertiary past – a soothing indigo palette, a blackboard scribbled with guest brews – with antique light fittings, squishy leather sofas, mahogany bar top, vintage wooden tables and chairs salvaged from old schools and reclamation yards. Another bar will be opened on the second floor at the end of the summer, and there’s a suntrap beer garden lined with potted bamboo – you wouldn’t realise you’re on the high street were it not for the red double-deckers thundering past. The Bluecoats boys have done good: they took an age-old formula of beer, burgers and football and improved every aspect of it to create something that feels nostalgic but at the same time fresh and modern.


    DRINKS

    Craft beers and ales have been sourced far and wide, from Hawaii’s Kona (the Big Wave golden ale has hits of mango and lychee) to North London’s Beavertown (the crisp and too-easy-to-drink Neck Oil IPA is a favourite) and local hit Hopspur amber ale by Redemption. There are 10 rotating lines – when one runs out, a new brew replaces it, keeping things fresh and seasonal. It’s not all crafty business here though: there’s also a small but well-chosen selection of wine and spirits (mezcal, gin, rum and whiskey).


    BAR SNACKS

    Lucky Chip – one of the first burger joints to kick-start the capital’s meat obsession back in 2011 – is manning the grill here. The burgers are the main deal (try El Chappo, with smoked bacon, blue cheese, roasted jalapeños and aioli), but the beer snacks are just as good: fried chicken covered in a rosemary-spiked crispy coating; charred padrón peppers generously sprinkled with sea-salt flakes; tater tots topped with candied bacon, mounds of Cheddar cheese and chipotle mayo. Downright dirty but so good.


    VERDICT

    Here is a pub that wants to be a part of the community and offers plenty for all. It won’t be just the new stadium drawing the crowds – The Bluecoats is set to have a loyal following of its own. By Roxy Kavousi-Walker

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE IVY, COVENT GARDEN

    Reassuringly old-school bar with a theatrical sense of occasion

    Sometimes you need to return to the old places. Take stock, rack up the changes, remind yourself that you don’t always need to be slurping fermented mezcal pops in a Hackney basement or on a Peckham rooftop. The Ivy has recently propagated a whole trail of mini Ivys around the country, but this is the Covent Garden original, open since World War I, and the only one you should really think of propping up the bar at. And while it’s the restaurant that usually gets written about (if you haven’t already, hunt down a copy of AA Gill’s day-in-the-life account, one of the best books written about a restaurant), it’s the bar that’s hogged centre stage here since 2015 when Martin Brudnizki popped by to redesign the space. There’s something of an Arts & Crafts Tardis about it, the oval counter carved from peach-coloured onyx and stone, light from the stained-glass windows reflecting on brass, Lalique lamps and mirrored columns. Sit on one of the red leather and pink mohair stool and you can survey the room at leisure, along with an alliterative roll-call of artworks by Hirst, Hambling and Hodgkin. There’s a lower celeb-count than in The Ivy’s Corbin-and-King Nineties heyday, but always a character or three, and at least the chances of running into Jeremy Clarkson are greatly reduced.


    DRINKS

    The well-versed bar team are a dab hand at the Twenties classics but have also concocted newbies such as an Umami Old Fashioned, infusing Glenmorangie with porcini and mixing with apricot brandy and cardamom bitters, and the Letty Lind (after the actress), a characterful mix of rum, rooibos, passionfruit, falernum and ginger beer – as well as siphoning their own sodas (the green apple sherbert will leave a moustache of foam on your lip). For its 100th birthday in 2017 the Ivy commissioned its own, very fine gin from William Chase: pine heavy and served here as a G&T with a grind of black pepper and slice of lemon. In case you’re wondering about the large glass cylinder on the counter, it’s the 100 Years Legacy, a classic Martinez – every time someone orders one, a fresh cocktail is made and poured in the top and an aged one released from the tap.


    FOOD

    The Ivy’s always been about grown-up comfort food rather than showing off, and many of the classic Hix recipes are still on the menu – bang bang chicken, shepherd’s pie – but regulars (many of whom prefer to dine at the bar) can now be seen following a sweet Manhattan with popcorn shrimp and a glass of Sancerre then a main of calves’ liver, while on-trend menu picks also include heritage beetroot and curd, and pork-rib bao with slaw and wasabi cream.


    VERDICT

    As fun and comforting as one of your parents’ dinner parties. Go post-theatre to experience the bar at its bounciest, gossipiest luvviest.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: The Ivy, 1 West Street, London WC2H 9NQ


    Telephone: +44 20 7836 4751


    Website: the-ivy.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Sabor, Mayfair

    With its restaurant donning a shiny new Michelin star, this bar distills the best of Spain

    You could come to Oxford Circus and never venture further than Oxford Street; than Selfridges and endless Angus Steakhouses and crowds outside of Hamleys watching someone dressed as a clown blowing bubbles. You could, but it would be wrong. Those in the know, wander off Regent Street to find Heddon Street – tucked to the side, and packed with interesting restaurants including dim-sum inspired Magpie, and Sabor. Opened by ex-Barrafina chef Nieves Barragan and partner José Etura in February 2018, this Spanish restaurant became a quick hit. An open kitchen serves a long, communal counter on the ground floor, where blue and white tiles line the walls and a buzzy crowd is settling in for after-work drinks by 6.15pm. If you’re here for drinks, arrive by 6pm for a good spot at the stand-alone bar, where smiley staff are eager to walk you through the drinks menu.


    DRINKS

    Don’t expect the now-standard negroni or Aperol spritz on the menu here – it’s traditional Spanish drinks all the way. ‘Drinks fall out of fashion, but eventually, if the quality stays, they come back in again,’ our waiter tells us. ‘Like sherries.’ I tell him my mum will be very excited to know that she’s trendy once more. ‘Give it a year,’ he tells us conspiratorially. ‘Next summer, sherry will be the new Aperol. It’ll be everywhere. And you’ll have seen it here first.’ If you’re still not sure on sherry, kick off with a Lustau Rojo, a red vermouth served in a squat glass with an olive in – possibly the coolest-looking aperitif in London (or Mayfair, certainly). It’s punchy and Mediterranean, and excellent to sip on while you debate the rest of the menu. The list of Spanish gins is nine-strong, with tasting notes declaring that you can get everything from a citrusy G&T to a foresty one (with pine and candy beetroot), and all come in a huge balloon glass, which the Spanish insist is necessary for the perfect gin and tonic. Elsewhere on the menu you’ll find Sangria (served from a huge glass drinks dispenser that sits on the bar), Rebujito (made with white fino sherry, mint and lemonade) and Galician beer.


    BAR SNACKS

    The restaurant at Sabor is one of our favourites in London, with the downstairs made up of small plates from all over Spain – perfect for snacking at the counter. Chunks of warm bread come with olive oil for dunking, or order pan con tomate for crunchy bread laden with tomatoes. You could eat a full meal without really noticing, so don’t make dinner reservations for afterwards: try the black trumpet croquetas with black truffle, camarones fritos or crisp fried chicken oyster bocadillo.By Sarah James


    VERDICT

    A perfect spot for one mid-week drink that turns into a few hours of grazing and sipping on all things delicious.

  • The best bars in London right now

    Harry’s Bar, Marylebone

    A slick Italian bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously

    Hanging on the walls at Harry’s Bar on James Street is a collection of photographs: screen siren Sophia Loren cutting slices of ham in a chef’s hat in Venice; a Slim Aarons shot of four Italian Riva boats rubbing shoulders at Hôtel du Cap; a 1957 shot of a police officer writing a woman a ticket for wearing a bikini in Rimini. They’re playful and evocative of Italian glamour in the 1950s, and jostle for space among cubist paintings and colourful art. It’s sexy but not serious; if Harry was a person, he’d have a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for beautiful things. And everything really is beautiful, down to the hand-painted Murano water glasses and the antique-style silver spoons with Tiffany-turquoise Harry’s Bar branding. Chocolatey leather banquettes and studded bar stools have a whiff of retro brasserie about them, with dark wood panels and glassy black ceilings creating an intimate, clubby feel inspired by both the original bar in Venice and Mayfair’s members club of the same name.

    DRINKS

    Antonio and Claudio man the glossy mahogany bar, where there’s a shiny new Fracino coffee machine and shelf upon shelf of elegant bottles, liqueurs and more Murano glassware. There’s a huge menu of botanical gin cocktails, but the Belstar-topped Bellinis are an inevitable favourite; the peach-and-Prosecco mix was invented by the original Harry’s Bar head honcho, Giuseppe Cipriani, who named them after a painting by Giovanni Bellini. If this terrace on James Street is as close as you’re getting to Italy this year, Claudio’s lime and mint Sgroppino bursts with luscious, lemony sorbet and home-made limoncello, is served icy cold and will undoubtedly become a summer favourite next season. The Amalfi Royale is a more subtle kind of citrus – creamier with notes of lavender and thyme. There’s also a generous wine list, with a surprisingly good value bottle of Inzolia (£19.50) that goes brilliantly with many dishes on Diego Cardoso’s menu.

    FOOD

    You can order from the full menu at the bar, but if you’re after something light to accompany drinks the aperitivo menu (served until 7pm) is packed with typical trattoria cicchetti – hot, fresh zucchini fritti, plump salty olives and delicate piadina. Later, order a couple of antipasti plates. Creamy burrata, rosemary-smoked verdure alla griglia are fabulous options, as is the signature carpaccio. I can’t promise it’s hand-sliced by Sophia Loren, though.

    VERDICT

    The ultimate accolade for any Italian establishment is the presence of actual Italian customers, present on several tables and exchanging quick-fire chat with the elegant staff. By Anna Prendergast

    Address: Harry’s Bar, 30-34 James Street, Marylebone, London W1U 1ER


    Phone: +44 20 3971 9444


    Website: harrys-bar.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    HEADS + TAILS, WEST HAMPSTEAD

    A neat West London neighbourhood cocktail bar that’s worth the journey

    Everyone knows, if you want to go to London’s coolest bars you need to head East – to Shoreditch or Dalston, or even concrete monstrosity Old Street. If you can’t face the trek, there are cute bars and kitsch bars and edgy bars in central London, and even a handful in South and North London. But west? West London could be seen as somewhat bereft of bars to hunker down with a drink. And yet, a new crop of places are inching out on the Tube map, opening up a world beyond Mayfair. In Paddington, The Pilgrm hotel’s first-floor lounge offers classic cocktails, and Darcie & May Green serves Prosecco on the roof of a canal boat. Soho House’s White City House, in the old BBC Television Centre, is a Seventies-retro hotspot, and in Queen’s Park, Milk Beach (one of our new favourite brunch spots) entices a local crowd with their organic wine and small plates. And now, on West Hampstead’s West End Lane, Heads + Tails is serving brilliant cocktails in its two-floor bar.

    The space is headed up by partners Will Partridge and Chris Dennis (previously at Kilburn Ironworks and Soho spot Disrepute, respectively), with two very distinct bars squeezed into one. On the ground floor, a dreamy colour palette of eggshell blues, rich turquoises and satisfyingly shiny gold make the long room feel light and frothy – this is Heads cocktail bar. Downstairs is Tails, a sophisticated, sultry basement area packed with wooden features and dark colours – a grown-up take on a dive bar.

    DRINKS

    We recommend you kick off upstairs, where the drinks menu matches the airy surroundings. Cocktails are aperitif-style, with an early-evening fizz: The Pendennis Club (made with gin, apricot liqueur, bitters and fresh lime) strikes a brilliant balance between sweet and sharp, while the West End Spritz is a cool take on a classic Aperol, featuring Suze herbal liqueur, bergamot and mandarin cordial and soda. If you’re taking it easy, a list of low-alcohol cocktails is cool and mature: try a dry vermouth with tonic or their Pink Lemonade: rosé, lemon sherbet and soda. When your palate is cleansed and you feel ready to move on, shuffle downstairs to Tails. Here, the menu flips (‘Like a penny!’ our waiter points out) to reveal a list of short and stirred (aka strong) cocktails: the Raven mixes cognac with green-tea syrup, Chartreuse, fresh lime and soda, while the heady Santa Maria includes Wild Turkey Rye, brandy, sweet vermouth, bitters and Bénédictine.


    FOOD

    The snack menu is decidedly nibbly but well thought out: order olives or smoked almonds, a cheese board with treats from France and Italy, or a charcuterie board with UK-made salami.


    VERDICT

    This bar will challenge what you think you know about heading west for a night out: a buzzy, boozy spot that’s open until the early hours, giving you two evenings in one.


    By Sarah James


    Address: Heads + Tails, 175 West End Lane, London NW6 2LH


    Phone: +44 7926 968 335


    Website: headsandtails.bar

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE BLETCHLEY, CHELSEA

    Enigmatic experiential cocktails with a Forties twist

    Incredible as it seems there are basements in Chelsea that haven’t yet been turned into subterranean swimming pools or private car museums for the bewilderingly wealthy. This one resides beneath the World’s End pub, a venerable Victorian boozer that’s as handsome as a frockcoat and gave this part of Chelsea its name. The Bletchley is the sort of sound you may make the morning after the night before, followed by a slight whimper, but of course takes its name from the hush-hush World War II code-breaking hub.

    And so the bar is dimly lit by Anglepoise lamps and decorated with a patina of chalkboard scribbles and equations, telegrams and newspaper clippings, with olive drab jackets to wear. Ordering drinks isn’t a simple matter of choosing from a menu, but cracking a series of codes using a replica Enigma machine, a field telephone and your wits, doubtless sharpened by the opening salvo of wintry rum and ginger. There’s a bright international team of bartenders to help, and the missions change every few months. We tend to be wary of any bar sporting a theme other than great cocktails, but were thoroughly immersed by this, and raised a glass to honour Alan Turing, the code-breaking genius behind the original Bletchley.

    THE DRINKS

    All depends on your agent profile – choose England as your assigned country and you’ll be served a gin cocktail, France for a Champagne one, and so on. All are bespoke and all are excellent, well balanced and never over-sweet (must be the rationing). A profile preference for lemon chicken inspired a gin cocktail spiked with lemon and thyme, while vegetable curry inspired a subtle tomato and spice mix. (Put sushi as your food preference, however, and they may struggle). There’s also a short menu of post-mission drinks, on which the mezcal Boulevardier is the highlight, swaggeringly strong and quite as good as anything Bogart knocked back in Rick’s Café.

    THE SNACKS

    Just popcorn – but there’s a restaurant in the chequer-tiled pub upstairs where agents can feast on oysters, Spanish-style steaks and heirloom tomato salad.

    THE VERDICT

    Chelsea lost any pretensions to coolness around the time people started wearing drainpipe jeans, so it’s good to know someone’s making decent drinks here in a snug basement bar set to a Forties jazz and electro-swing soundtrack, with only the occasional air-raid siren to get in the way.


    Address: The Bletchley, 459 King’s Road, London SW10 0LJ


    Telephone: +44 20 3488 1678


    Website: thebletchley.co.uk

    By Rick Jordan

  • The best bars in London right now

    Three Sheets, Haggerston

    Polished neighbourhood hangout from London’s dynamic next-gen cocktail duo

    The Venning Brothers are on a roll right now. Manchester-born Noel and Max, unlike Noel and Liam, get on rather well together. Max spent six years honing his craft at Tony Conigliaro’s genre-busting 69 Colebrooke Row, while Noel had fun juggling frozen Margaritas at Manchester’s good-times Crazy Pedro’s. Now they’re making quite a commotion in London, having recently created the menus for Mayfair’s Gridiron restaurant (go for their update of a Harvey Wallbanger) and Crouch End’s Little Mercies bar, and opening their Bar Three joint below Blixen in Spitalfields. Coming soon, the Top Cuvée bistro and bar in Finsbury Park. They’ve even written a book, Batched and Bottled, on the art of muddling drinks ahead so you’re not muddling bottles when your friends arrive. Three Sheets is their London HQ though, their first project together: a minimalist slip of a bar on Kingsland Road with Black Keys, William Onyeabor, LCD Soundsystem and New Order on the playlist, and just 10 cocktails on the menu. ‘We didn’t want a big concept or sitting space only,’ says Max, ‘which many people were doing when we opened in 2016. Just a fun place for good drinks, made quickly.’

    DRINKS

    With its fat-washed spirits and fermented fruits, the influence of Tony Conigliaro can be felt on the menu, but the drinks are all the brothers’ own – with input from award-winning head bartender Rosey Mitchell. One of the signature concoctions, the Shiso Miso, is a Japanese Old Fashioned made using Nikka whisky and miso, served on the rocks with shiso leaf in a ceramic cup. Max reckons there are far too many gins around so is championing vodka instead – small-batch Victory, in particular, which is made in London using green coffee – in drinks such as the Earth Martini, which with its slice of beetroot is just the sort of drink you can imagine Tess of the d’Urbervilles sipping in a Wessex salon. Cherry+Apple is a recent hit, a Bakewell tart of a drink, mixing amaretto, fermented cherry and apple digestif; Scottish Coffee is another puddingy hygge-making tipple – with bourbon and shortbread cream. And after a sip of the French 75, reimagined with carbonated Moscato and orange flower, you may wish to order a whole bottle.

    FOOD

    Just simple plates of coppa cold cuts, cheese and bread – if you’re peckish you may have to walk along to Brilliant Corners for its Japanese small plates.

    VERDICT

    The sort of neighbourhood bar that was impossible to imagine in London five years ago, and a sign of the city’s (and Dalston’s) growing cocktail maturity.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: Three Sheets, 510b Kingsland Road, London E8 4AB


    Telephone: +44 7718 648771


    Website: threesheets-bar.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Little Mercies, Crouch End

    A stripped-down, ramped-up North London bar worth getting on the bus for

    Crouch End, sometimes pronounced in a French accent, is one of those London villages that quite enjoys being apart from the rest of the city with no tube station, thank you very much, and while it was fine for drinking flat whites at one of many, many coffee shops and buying Moomin mugs and Tatty Devine pineapple earrings, followed by a pint at the Queens, it was a place that rarely rang in cocktail hour. But then Bar Esteban opened for excellent tapas and Irvin for Italian plates, and later, cosy little Nickel for well-mixed concoctions – though with Altered Images’s Clare Grogan behind Esteban, and the drummer from Lloyd Cole & The Commotions behind Irvin, there was always the niggling suspicion that you had to be part of an Eighties pop band to make it big here. But Alan Sherwood is far too young for that, and the Little Mercies bar he opened late in 2018 is doing something completely different for the neighbourhood. His track record takes in Scout and Peg + Patriot bars, and the drinks list here has been developed with help from Max and Noel Venning, the sharp-shooting brothers in arms behind Three Sheets. The name, in case you were wondering, comes partly from the song by hip-hop crew Doomtree, which you may hear through the speakers.


    DRINKS

    A whole lot of up-all-night, whizz-it-round-the-kitchen-in-a-rotovator work has gone into the cocktails here, but you wouldn’t know that from the speed at which glasses line up on the concrete counter. The Pornstar is poured from a bottle, and came from an idea Alan had to make a Pornstar Bellini, before he realised that passionfruit bubbles were best – those familiar with the French 75 at Three Sheets will get the picture, and it’s a fun take on what must be the most popular cocktail in the UK right now. And while you nurse the White Chocolate Old Fashioned, you could consider the 48 hours it took to arrive there, the way the chocolate was caramelised in a water bath for 10 hours, then cooked with Buffalo Trace bourbon and spun and chilled – or you could simply sip it slowly and enjoy those flavours floating around your mouth. The Delicious Sour, meanwhile, is as orchardy as they come, adding cider brandy, sour apple and apple caramel to Victory Vodka for a tarte tatin of a drink.


    FOOD

    Rather than a salty aside to the cocktails, the plates here work in their own right, and could almost be the main reason you end up here. There are properly chompy croquettes with a jumble of mushrooms, fired by maple sriracha; a crisp enoki tempura; and lardo toast strewn with shavings of pickled walnut. The dish of pork and celeriac is a tender bar of tenderloin with a scrimmage-scrunch of pickled celeriac that you could eat a whole bowl of.


    VERDICT

    A North London game-changer. By Rick Jordan


    Address: Little Mercies, 20 Broadway Parade, London N8 9DE


    Telephone: +44 78 5225 3136


    Website: littlemercies.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Toots n Hoots, Covent Garden

    A New York-inspired drinking den above one of Covent Garden’s buzziest streets

    When we first visited playful New York dim-sum import RedFarm (you’ve seen its Pac Man dumplings online) after it opened at the end of 2018, co-owner Ed Schoenfeld ushered us upstairs to Toots n Hoots. ‘This is kind of a secret,’ he said, opening the door on a group of well-heeled, slightly rowdy crowd drinking cocktails. ‘We’re not telling many people about it yet.’ The team here were focusing on making it the best it could be before any fanfare. Four months later, and the word is out. Above the cheery gingham-clad restaurant, this is a more clandestine space. No relation to trashy American bar Hooters, it has two owl paintings on the whitewashed walls – the eponymous Toots and Hoots – as well as matte-black panelling, black leather booth seats and black shutters pulled all the way down to give a speakeasy feel. It’s a small space, with room for just 20 people to sit comfortably, a low-lit bar at the centre of it all and a toe-tapping mix of soul and RnB on the speakers.

    DRINKS

    The cocktail menu is small, with just seven drinks, which will be a relief for anyone who’s ever searched through a twenty-strong list trying to find one with ingredients they recognise. The menu is split into Venn-diagram-style categories – choose between strong, smooth or easy, with a couple of drinks straddling the lines. We kicked off with the Wiser In Time – with mega-smoky mezcal, chartreuse, grapefruit for a kick and vanilla for an element of silkiness – which sits in both the easy and smooth categories. The Seldom in the Daylight (easy) came highly recommended by the bartender; made with gin and bergamot, it has lemongrass for a hit of Asian flavour that compliments the food and a lasting flavour of very English cucumber. If you’re not feeling cocktails, there’s a unique Toots n Hoots Session IPA by Goodness Brewery and a decent list of wines (beware of the prices, though, as the cheapest glass starts at £8.50).

    SNACKS

    You can order RedFarm’s entire menu here – we recommend those famous Pac Man shrimp dumplings and the pork chop from our last visit to the restaurant. But there’s also a dedicated snack menu for those planning to move on to one of Covent Garden’s other restaurants later. We can vouch for the barbecue- pork bao sliders (a New York take on an Asian classic with cornbread-style buns) and the filet mignon tartlets: a juicy slither of steak on a crispy pastry base with a kick of chilli.

    VERDICT

    A cool spot to know about for a drink before you move downstairs to RedFarm or elsewhere, with a great cocktail list and moreish snacks. You’ll stay longer than you’d planned. By Sarah James

  • The best bars in London right now

    Near and Far, Camden

    A Peckham hotspot travels north

    After bringing West-Coast-cool-inspired joints to Peckham and Angel in the past few years, Near & Far has made the journey further north for its third bar in the capital. Taking over four storeys opposite the Stables markets (near to the Roundhouse, with its permanent queue snaking around the corner), the latest spot from the group sees Club Tropicana come to Camden. Concrete walls are painted in pastel colours, and there’s lots of low-level pink lighting. On the ground level, the blue-tiled bar takes up most of the space, while downstairs there’s a basement drinking den that can be hired for private parties. The mezzanine is a cosy, neon-lit space with eclectic, brightly coloured furniture to spread out on. The top floor, though, will be the main draw: a year-round roof terrace with views over the market.

    DRINKS

    The cocktail menu is full of bright, imaginatively named cocktails with a Cali-Mexico twist. We started out with the Emergency Brexit (‘The name of this one will quickly stop being relevant,’ our waitress said as she delivered it. ‘Or maybe not’), made with gin and Campari and infused with thyme, orange peel and cucumber – a short cocktail with a savoury, almost smoky flavour. The Duty Paid, described as ‘the new Old Fashioned’, is made with Monkey Shoulder whisky but given a sweet kick with the addition of homemade banana syrup. When the weather’s warm, the cocktail of choice has to be the Benedict Cucumberbatch: made with Hendrick’s gin, cucumber juice, elderflower and prosecco, it’s a properly sunny, English drink that’s made for long, lost Sunday afternoons.

    SNACKS

    The food menu takes a trip through a West Coast variation on Mexican cuisine. Most things can be made in a bigger portion to suit a larger group, or kept small for two or three people. The tamarind-dressed crab tostadas are little bites of creamy, fresh-tasting crab, piled high on avocado and cucumber salsa and a crispy base. Chicken enchiladas are gooey and cheesy in all the best ways, and the tacos are filled with high-octane flavours – we recommend the carnitas al pastor, with red onion, guacamole and plenty of chilli. The menu is also entirely gluten-free (you can’t tell), meaning this is a place you can safely visit with that dietary-requirements friend.

    VERDICT

    This is a fun spot for a trip to the tropics without leaving Zone 2 – and a place to know about for the summer. By Sarah James

    Address: Near & Far, 48 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AJ


    Telephone: +44 20 7267 2700


    Website: nearandfarlondon.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Gosnells, Peckham

    London’s first mead bar lands in the south London neighbourhood that’s always ahead of the curve

    This is London’s only mead bar. The spirit, which is made from fermented honey, is in fact the world’s oldest alcoholic drink, pre-dating both wine and beer. And while it’s been raising its head in the USA for the last couple of years, Peckham brewers Gosnells are the first in London to catch on. Tom Gosnell started making it after an American trip, where he came across this monastic spirit reimagined as a high-value, highly crafted drink. Because bees generally forage within three miles of their hives, there’s a real sense of terroir – one that provides a lot more variety than, say, grapes or hops. And since 2011, he’s been supplying mead to some of the best bars and restaurants in London (Core by Clare Smyth, Swift, Nightjar). New in 2019 is Gosnells’ own pared-back space on top of one of Peckham’s best restaurants, Coal Rooms. A new drinking den is of itself noteworthy in this restaurant-packed hood, but Gosnells will also be hosting mead masterclasses, honey tastings and food pairings.

    DRINKS

    Gosnells white-wine-coloured Original Mead is made with Valencian orange-grove honey, while the Vintage Mead (which at a whopping 12 per cent has more than a whiff of sherry about it) is made with East London honeys. Most first-timers try the mead flight – five glasses of the sweet stuff which will vary month on month. The Citra Sea was our favourite, a light effervescent version made with lemon peel and tarragon with a slightly salty kick that cuts through the sugar. Expect a new special each month, working with a different honey producer, and flavours including pink hibiscus, hops and gooseberries. There’s even a mead for teetotallers: a zero per cent prototype made from a mixed ferment. The surprise, though, was the cocktail list: try the Peckham Lemonade, a sharp mix of gin from the East London Liquor Company and lemon juice topped with Gosnells and honey, or the bar’s bestseller – a blend of barrel-aged mead with gin, honey and bitters, nicknamed the Mead-hattan.


    SNACKS

    Small plates come from the open kitchen downstairs at Coal Rooms: doorstops of sourdough bread from St John with treacle vinegar and rapeseed oil; fresh carrot and chilli corn tacos; black pudding and ham croquettes served with a scribble of mustard mayo. Actually, this isn’t a bad way into a restaurant with tables that are hard to book.

    VERDICT

    Go for the mead, stay for the cocktails. By Tabitha Joyce

    Address: Gosnells, upstairs at Coal Rooms, 11a Station Way, Station, 4RX, Peckham Rye, London SE15


    Telephone: +44 20 3289 9562


    Website: gosnells.co.uk


    Open Wednesday – Saturday; tours of the Gosnells Meadery available every Saturday at 1pm: £15 for 1.5 hours, including a tasting flight

  • The best bars in London right now

    HOMEBOY, ISLINGTON

    North London whiskey evangelist with the teeniest-tiniest Irish pub in the whole of London

    If you’ve ever wondered what Islington’s Upper Street was like 30 years ago, it’s simple: just walk across to Essex Road. It’s one of London’s great under-rated thoroughfares, a mile-long arrow pointing straight to Essex and originally known as Lower Street. Not nearly as smart as Upper, of course – if you were on your uppers, you’d probably be on Lower – but full of characters. Some of whom will be found in Homeboy. It’s an Irish bar, though not in the way you’re probably thinking. This is a little Lower East Side. Bowery-black signage, green leather and two-tone bar; Guinness but no foam shamrocks; arm ink and French bulldogs; Nineties hip-hop instead of fiddles and The Dubliners.

    Although there are Dubliners here: Aaron Wall and Ciarán Smith, who run the joint, bringing a deft hand learnt from Callooh Callay in Shoreditch and The Dorchester. The two are keen to share their sense of Irish hospitality – the same urge that made Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle ask ‘Would you like a nice cup of tea? Go on, go on, go on…’ – and which goes back to historic civil laws that insisted on providing for strangers. At the back, through a small door, is the smallest Irish pub in London, opened for the Six Nations championship and decorated with uncovered punk-era posters and Guinness ads, with its own snug – that traditional VIP room of the Irish boozer.

    DRINKS

    Plenty of Irish whiskeys that can be approached in plenty of ways – or avoided altogether. A Boilermaker pairing such as Jameson Caskmates with a Chieftain IPA, perhaps, rolling the spirit around in your mouth to appreciate its profile – or a Hemingway-style Set Menu of Roe & Co with 1936 lager and a Daiquiri. The team have a playful approach with cocktails, many of which are nods to classic-era serves, but there’s nothing that feels too gimmicky – even the Teaandabiccie, which stirs whiskey with Benedictine, Barry’s Irish Tea, clarified milk and a Hobnob syrup. Go on, go on, go on…

    There’s also the summery Emerald Collins, with Slane whiskey instead of gin or vodka, plus Cynar added to the mix, and the fruity-but-not-sweet take on the Manhattan, titled the Wogan (whiskey, apricot brandy, lime and sugar). If you can pronounce it, the Taoiseach is the bar’s lovely version of El Presidente, swapping rum for Redbreast Potstill. ‘We’re the dog snapping at the heels of the Dead Rabbit boys,’ says Smith.


    SNACKS

    The kitchen is currently being upgraded, so the menu’s a little limited right now, but the team will fix you a toastie or Tayto sandwich, made with the famous Irish crisps. Irish stew and soda bread are made to family recipes.

    VERDICT

    A warmly welcoming, no-bother bar, where Tuesday night may very well feel like a Friday. If you get too pickled, you might be allowed to sit in the window of Get Stuffed, the taxidermist’s opposite. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Homeboy, 108 Essex Road, London N1 8LX


    Telephone: +44 770 1367965


    Website: homeboybar.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Coral Room, Bloomsbury

    A show-stopper where everything is just peachy

    Human babies are not, as is commonly supposed, born colour-blind. Science shows that they will spend more time gazing at brightly coloured things than at dull ones. As they get older and learn to speak, they tend to take longer to learn the names of the drearier colours, suggesting they are susceptible to a ‘preferential learning mechanism’ that favours the perkier end of the Pantone chart. Nor is this something we ever grow out of. And maybe it is one of the reasons why people of all ages are so keen on the Coral Room at The Bloomsbury hotel. A year or so ago the Doyle family, proprietors of the Bloomsbury, had the excellent idea of transforming what had for decades been the lobby into a bar. Martin Brudnizki, the designer they employed to make this happen, had one or two excellent ideas of his own, including that of painting the walls, which are enormous, a particularly beguiling, rich, vivid and opulent shade of coral pink. The result is one of the most beautiful bars in London.

    DRINKS

    This is a terrific, serious bar where you can feel confident ordering anything you fancy, on or off the menu. But something about the space itself is likely to steer your choice towards something fun and summery and light. The Coral Room has from day one been a champion of English sparkling wines, and house concoctions such as the Chiswick Spritz (Sipsmith London Cup, pomegranate, kumquat, raspberry vinegar, ginger syrup, lime juice, sparkling wine) prove that local fizz actually works brilliantly well in such aperitivo-style drinks. The colour of a Chiswick Spritz, incidentally, almost matches that of the walls but not quite. Something must be done.

    BAR SNACKS

    Open from 10 o’clock in the morning till midnight, with separate brunch, lunch and afternoon-tea menus. From five o’clock onwards there are cocktail-appropriate snacks and small plates, many of a distinctly grown-up tone (manchego cheese and truffle honey; Dorset crab on toast). Your reviewer was there at lunchtime and hoovered up an impeccable if not entirely grown-up club sandwich.

    VERDICT

    The Coral Room has done as much as anywhere else to put the bloom back into Bloomsbury. By Steve King

    Address: The Coral Room, The Bloomsbury, 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN


    Telephone: +44 20 7347 1000


    Website: thecoralroom.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Top Cuvée, Highbury

    Wine-glugging North London bistro with French tastes and Aussie attitude

    The more cynical among you may say there’s as much chance of finding a top cuvée on this stretch of the Blackstock Road as a top hat. But times and expectations are a-changing, and this neighbourhood wine-bar-bistro brings an appealing wine list without any pretension – the elegance of its name deftly deflated by the balloony cartoon font of its sign – alongside a proper dining menu. There’s a close-knit team behind it, led by Brodie Meah, an affable Welshman who spent two formative years as drinks manager for Dinner By Heston’s Melbourne outpost. He and his family did most of the interiors work themselves, transforming a dowdy Greek taverna into a bright open space with wooden school chairs and higher marble perches. There’s also a turntable by the bar – ‘I naively thought I’d open a bar and spend my daytimes rummaging through vinyl at Broadway Market’ says Brodie – but the soundtrack is Brodie’s own Spotify playlist, with obscure indie and dancehall tunes on rotation. And he’ll be screening the Tour de France on the wall when it rides out.

    DRINK

    The drinks list was partly fixed by that dynamic bar duo the Venning Brothers, of Three Sheets fame, who’ve mixed wine into a short list of cocktails, all prepared earlier and bottled for easy pouring. The Martini brings in an Austrian vermouth for a tannic hit; the Margaritas are flying out, stirring in orange wine instead of Cointreau. And the sangria will make you step back and reappraise your opinion of sangria. It’s made with Beaujolais and a berry cordial, is wholly refreshing, and makes you think of a free-flowing summertime picnic. Talking of which, Brodie will be selling bottles of the stuff to take to the park – Top Cuvée is also an informal bottleshop. But the straight wines here are the big draw, all of them natural – try the Perfect Day Gerhard Pittnauer, which Brodie reckons is a great introduction to orange wines, or the peppery Pinot d’Aunis from the Loire. And start your evening or weekend afternoon with a glass of rarely encountered Moravian Pét Nat – hipster bubbles, lively and creamy.

    FOOD

    You may pop here for the wine list but you will stay for some of those gloopy sweet-potato and sage croquettes, and a few sturdy spears of Wye Valley asparagus, topped by a breadcrumb-crusted egg. And something from the robata grill – courgettes draped on the plate next to a dollop of freshly whipped ricotta. Before you know it, there’s a whole dinner arriving. Serious credentials are to be found in the open kitchen: Dan Miller came here from Naughty Piglets, and stands next to one of Brodie’s friends, who just happens to be former head chef at Ferran Adrià’s Tickets in Barcelona. You won’t find that at Perfect Fried Chicken.

    VERDICT

    Your friendly local bistro-bar that wears its knowledge lightly and is fast drawing grateful folk from all around north London. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Top Cuvée, 177B Blackstock Road, Highbury East, London N5 2LL


    Telephone: +44 20 3294 1665


    Website: topcuvee.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Hacha, Dalston

    A Viva Mexico love song to agave spirits from a spirited East London insider

    Anyone who loves cocktails should read Kingsley Amis’s highly entertaining Every Day Drinking, written in the 1960s and 70s; not least for its recipe for a Lucky Jim (12 to 15 parts vodka to one part vermouth and two parts cucumber juice. Don’t forget the cucumber). But Amis does get one thing totally, utterly wrong: he describes mezcal as the nastiest thing he ever drank. Which is nonsense. This is a drink every bit about the terroir as wine and whisky, which can be fruity and floral and soft and elegant, as silkily smoky as ‘The Tracks of My Tears’ rather than as chokingly in-yer-face as a bonfire. Mezcal has been drifting onto some of the best London bar menus over the past few years – some may have fond memories of Quiquirqui, hidden below a kebab joint on the Hackney Road, or are familiar with the ones at El Pastor, Temper and old favourite Café Pacifico. But here’s a new bar entirely devoted to mezcal and tequila, just along from Three Sheets, with 25 bottles numbered and racked up on the shelf by Deano Moncrieffe – a Diegeo brand ambassador who fell in love with the spirit 15 years ago and has been exploring its flavours ever since. Now you can too, in a leafy, bright, café-like space that avoids any skull-bashing Day of the Dead schtick and looks as if it pours nothing stronger than a cactus juice.

    THE DRINK

    Deano has thought long and hard about the menu here, taking a handful of familiar cocktails and reinventing them with tequila and mezcal. Take the creamy Hacha Colada, which uses sultana-infused Anejo with horchata, chargrilled pineapple and a scattering of toasted coconut for an earthier, less-sugary-than-usual take on the Piña C. Or the Mirror Margarita, a brilliant, crystal-clear serve using a sour made from malic-acid rather than citrus and spritzed with Cointreau and grapefruit. But take time to ask Deano for a recommendation for a single serve – he pairs each tequila or mezcal with a flavour enhancer, which could be a square of chocolate, a shot of herby Seedlip or, in the case of one very funky mezcal – which had aromas of braying donkeys and scratching chickens but with thankfully none of the flavour – a few mouthfuls of London IPA. As for the wine list, how many other bars have one that straddles Bethnal Green and Mexico?

    THE FOOD

    Plenty of crunch, gloop and spice on the full menu here, from yuca chips and tostadas laden with pork belly and aubergine to sea-bass ceviche on crisp breadfruit tostaditas, and shredded-beef and plantain tacos – hard-shell or soft, all made on the premises.

    VERDICT

    A place to seriously get to grips with mezcal’s nuances, or just kick back with a plate of tacos and a cocktail. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Hacha, 378 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London E8 4AA


    Telephone: no telephone number


    Website: hachabar.com

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  • The best bars in London right now

    FAM, Marylebone

    A retro bar with a new-age mantra


    After-work drinks are a perennial dilemma. Besides not wanting to hear about Linda’s child-minding dramas, or risk suffering that inevitable moment when you forget a colleague’s name (I want to say… Ian?), there’s the problem of where to go. Central London is a minefield. Your choices seem to be between All Bar One (or as my Dad once said, Albaroné), sweat-stained City-boy haunts or hen-party-riddled cocktail clubs. Enter FAM. Hang up your coat, check out the photo wall and leaf through the vinyl to choose your soundtrack (the albums are brought in by the staff). If you’ve ever longed for that make-yourself-at-home feel in the centre of town, you’ve found it. The staff are friendly, the drinks are first-rate, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a comfortable seat – not things you usually associate with the West End of London. FAM is your local, without the locality – it’s next to Selfridges – the type of place (sing it with me now) ‘where everybody knows your name’. It was Ian, wasn’t it?

    DRINK

    From the retro decor, you might expect the drinks to be all beer and Del Boy classics, but the menu is anything but. The team here, led by Dré Masso and Megs Miller of creative bar consultancy Comunidad, seriously know what they are doing, and each cocktail is considered, with unique and locally sourced ingredients. Homemade sloe gin, nettle cordial, maple kombucha – experimental ingredients with a green-minded sensibility. Try the FAM Margarita, their take on the classic with sweet flower honey to take the bite out of the aftertaste, or Brand New Shoes, a great aperitif with London gin and blood-orange shrub.

    FOOD

    You wouldn’t guess it (mainly because of the distinct absence of a yoga-honed crowd taking endless pictures of turmeric lattes), but sustainability is at the forefront of everything FAM creates. You won’t find a scrap of plastic in sight, (think jam jars and war-era tin pots), and dishes are made with minimal waste. Try the nacho cheese – a signature concoction served cold, yet still runny, or the chips made from celery, with bloody Mary ketchup.

    VERDICT

    Despite the playful name, this bar makes some serious drinks. By Charlotte Davey

    Address: FAM, Corner of Picton Place and Duke Street, London W1U


    Website: fam.bar

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE DONOVAN BAR, MAYFAIR

    Swinging Sixties glamour with impeccably tailored drinks from one of the cocktail world’s most dapper figures

    Look carefully at the multitude of black-and-white portraits that line the walls here – for the Donovan the bar is named after isn’t Jason, of course, but the late Terence, whose photographs framed the 1960s – and you may spot one of comic genius Tony Hancock. He’s clutching a cup of coffee and wearing a trademark hangdog expression. Grumpiness personified. Were he clutching one of the cocktails here, though, he’d be all smiles; a broad grin would spread across his face. The Brown’s Hotel bar has always been one of the best bars in Mayfair, but has a new gleam in its eye, a certain swagger, since being rebooted in 2018. The room was redeveloped in photographic blacks, greys and whites, with racing green and burnished gold for extra dazzle. It was given its own street entrance, and its rather tight bar counter swivelled around and stretched out, its shimmery swimming-pool-blue glass top reflecting light from the spirit shelves behind, with the stained-glass St George window at one end – part of the building’s original 1885 incarnation. And after a pop-up appearance in 2017, Salvatore Calabrese was enticed over to take charge of the drinks menu here – the Amalfi-born bartender has been jiggling his jigger for four decades, perfecting his Martinis first at Dukes then going on to work at The Lanesborough and Fifty St James’s.

    DRINKS

    Calabrese made his first Negroni aged just 12, so if you order a Negroni, you can be assured it will be one of the best ones you’ve ever downed – the Gran Torino twists it with Johnnie Walker Gold and ginger foam. And if you’ve never tried his Breakfast Martini before – a drink he regards as one of his own masterpieces, with marmalade and cedar-wood essence in the mix – then do order one as an aperitif. But, since May 2019, a new menu has taken the 1960s as its inspiration, with Our Generation drinks arranged in four themes (‘Portrait’, ‘Fashion’ ‘Music’ and ‘Screen’). A drink named Paint It Black arrives with a brushstroke on its glass, mixing rooibos-infused tequila with a citrussy-fennel soda; Madam Loren rescues the tomato from the Bloody Mary, placing it in a Martini glass with gin and some intense fruit flavours, with a crispy basil leaf floating on top. For something a little more avant-garde, order an Alfie (whisky washed in hazelnut butter, muddled with ale and a briny tincture of seaweed and sage that will put hairs on your chest) and discuss the validity of the male gaze while looking at Donovan’s nudes in the Naughty Corner area of the bar.

    BAR SNACKS

    Well, caviar’s always an option but the crispy beef croquettes are more satisfying, along with a salad-tossed bowl of crispy squid. Best to keep it crispy with cocktails.

    VERDICT

    A Mayfair original has been artfully revived – and while the drinks aren’t cheap, unlike the Sixties, if you were there you’ll remember them. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Donovan Bar, Brown’s Hotel, 33 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP


    Website: roccofortehotels.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Black Rock and Black Rock Tavern, Finsbury


    East London bars bringing whisky to a younger, less stuffy crowd


    Whisky used to be the golf of the drinks world, with a reputation for stuffiness and peaty snobbery. But it’s changing fast: not just with sales booming, but with cool distilleries in Melbourne, Taiwan and the Cotswolds turning out experimental New World drams for a fresh audience. Black Rock, in the hinterland between the City and Shoreditch, is a temple for this more inclusive, hedonistic brand of whisky quaffing. Previously a dark basement bar built around an almost 200-year-old oak tree holding two troughs of the stuff, it expanded this summer to include the Black Rock Tavern at street level – a neighbourhood bistro that’s more Copenhagen-airy than Ginza-reverential. Owners Tom Aske and Tristan Stephenson, cocktail veterans who launched the lauded Worship Street Whistling Shop in 2011, are also set to open a blending room and a three-room hotel upstairs. As well as running Whisky Me, which delivers pouches of Scotch and rye to subscribers every month, Aske and Stephenson are bringing a Black Rock outpost to Bristol later this year, with plans for another London brach in the works, too. Having previously run whimsical sherry spot Sack Bar in the space that’s now Black Rock Tavern, the pair have officially gone all in on the amber stuff.

    DRINKS

    Downstairs is darker and more reverential than upstairs with more than 250 lovingly selected bottles in glass cabinets, each one reasonably priced and helpfully marked in sections: Smoke, Fruit, Balance, Fragrance, Spice, Sweet. There are peaty Islay classics and sophisticated Hokkaido standards, of course, but also spicy-sweet Kentucky corn whisky and a single malt from the Stauning Whisky distillery in Denmark’s Jutland, with hints of smoky chocolate, nougat and vanilla. Cocktails and highballs come under the same flavour headings, and of the two blends maturing in the oak trunk, one is a Limousin-aged bourbon that tastes like a minty Old Fashioned. The atmosphere is hardly stuffy downstairs, with chatty service and west coast hip-hop languidly bleeding from speakers, but in the Tavern upstairs it’s more irreverent, with fewer whiskies and more playful cocktails (there are also craft beers on tap). The Guinness Punch with smooth Oban whisky, condensed milk and spices is inspired by the velvety rum version you might drink over Christmas in Jamaica. And the Cardhu whisky with tonic would raise a bushy eyebrow at the country club. But our favourite is the Smokey Cokey highball, with 12-year-old Caol Ila, cherry bitters and Fever-Tree cola somehow blending with a dandyish elegance that 3am Jack and Cokes have never quite mustered. Thom Solberg, the Norwegian bar manager who dreamt up the menu, talks through it all with puppyish enthusiasm. He’s a long way from those dour, tartan-clad retirees who tend to lead Scottish distillery tours.

    BAR SNACKS

    It’s called Scran here, as per the post-Kitchin trend, and is reliably unpretentious: house scratchings and a vegetarian haggis sausage roll with brown sauce upstairs; a pork-and-black-pudding Scotch egg downstairs. Naughty fun, but not really why you’re here.

    VERDICT

    Easily one of the best bars in London for Whisky. It’s Whisky’s answer to the hipster craft-beer joint. By Toby Skinner

    Address: Black Rock, 9 Christopher Street, London EC2A 2BS


    Telephone: +44 20 7247 4580


    Website: blackrock.bar

  • The best bars in London right now

    Red Hand

    A craft beer bar in Dalston suitable for both bearded hipsters and their cocktail-sipping friends

    The problem with many craft beer bars in London is that craft beer is often the full extent of their offering. Great if all your friends roll up their jeans and love small-batch ales, but less good if your posse is more eclectic. On entering Red Hand, drinkers are met by an enormous train station-style board listing their beers, so you’d be forgiven for thinking this was one of those establishments: only fitting for artisanal hopheads. But that’s not the case – Red Hand’s menu is diverse and plentiful, featuring spirits from around the world, natural wines and a seasonally-changing cocktail menu. The bar opened on Stoke Newington Road at the start of 2019 to relatively little fanfare, replacing Bardens Boudoir, a well-loved basement club the community weren’t too thrilled about losing. It has since been transformed from a late-night destination into something more grown-up and relaxed, with diner-style booths, exposed brick, dim lighting and earthy wooden tones that make the huge space warm and inviting. So inviting in fact, that you might have to step over a sleeping labradoodle on your way to ordering drinks at the bar.

    DRINKS

    Tapped, bottled and canned – Red Hand has 18 draughts and about 40 bottles (sharing and not) on its menu. Some are rare global imports, others locally sourced, ranging from Brooklyn brews aged in barrels with fresh raspberries to IPAs flavoured with Cashmere, Citra and Mosaic hops. The non-beer list, too, is extensive, with Espresso Martinis and Negronis on tap, plus classics such as Pisco Sours, Old Fashioneds and Gin & Tonics mixed using small-batch independent liquor. There are natural wines from Europe that are free from additives, contain little to no sulphites and are hand-picked from sustainable, organic or biodynamic vineyards – promising to minimise that hangover.

    BAR SNACKS

    Red Hand has deployed chef Rebecca Leaver to create a menu of mouth-watering cheese toasties that will sober you up. There’s The Jesus, made with Maroilles cheese (based on a recipe created by a 10th-century French monk), saucisson de Jesus and pepper-pickled jalapenos, as well as a delicious vegetarian number called the Leeky Fondu, with Morbier, Gruyere and sautéed nutmeg leeks in a rye baguette. There’s a vegan toastie too, but we recommend giving The Schnitz a miss, as fake mozzarella and tofu schnitzel don’t compare to the real thing.

    VERDICT

    This Dalston newbie is big enough for parties and cosy enough for dates – whatever your drinking preference.

    Address: Red Hand, 36-38 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London N16 7XJ


    Telephone: +44 20 7275 0050


    Website: red-hand.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Cockatiel Club

    A kitsch drinking den just steps from Waterloo Station


    If you’ve been to the Old Vic in the last year then you may have seen it: a light blue building next door with a ‘Hello Darling’ sign in neon lights. Inside, you enter the whimsical world of Harriet Darling, who, alongside co-owner and design partner Elise Edge, is responsible for the creative vision of the immersive Gingerline dining experiences and the Wonderland bar at Alice Underground at The Vaults. This is their latest adventure, spanning a ground floor restaurant, an upstairs house-party venue including six themed rooms, and downstairs bar The Cockatiel Club. Stepping through its wooden beaded curtains is like entering the Seventies living room of an eccentric, Biba-kaftan-wearing aunt. A testament to the duo’s creative panache, this is fully realised, so-bad-it’s-good bohemian kitsch. From the mirrored ceiling to the well-worn velvet couch and Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman vibrating through a leopard-print covered wall, the space feels lived in, and encourages guests to relax and have fun. Even the disco ball looks like it’s been partying for decades and is keen to keep spinning.

    DRINKS

    The list of potent cocktails pays a tongue-in-cheek homage to the drinks of the era, throwing it back to a time when pineapple juice, Blue Curaçao and maraschino cherries were considered the height of sophistication. All named after exotic birds, The Phoenix combines choc-cookie syrup and Cointreau – two things that shouldn’t work together – and tastes like a grown-up’s version of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. If, like Darling, you prefer savoury, the Great Hornbill is like the smoky lovechild of a Margarita and a Martini. And for those keen to embrace the bar’s retro novelty, the gin-based Blue Macaw looks like a frothy bath in a coupé glass tub, and actually tastes slightly like bath water too – but in a good way. Order one to share and be prepared to debate its merits – or otherwise – all night.

    BAR SNACKS

    ‘No one wants to eat food from the 1970s,’ says Darling, before going on to describe the era’s famed (and phallic) candlestick salad. So instead, snacks are classic nuts and nibbles. For something more substantial, the restaurant upstairs serves thoughtful and seasonal sharing dishes. Vegetarians are well catered for with dishes such as polenta, roast chestnuts, wild mushrooms and turnip tops with Parmesan. The pre-theatre menu is even designed to compliment the Old Vic’s current show.

    THE VERDICT

    Finally a bar with a serious sense of fun pulls into Waterloo. By Lauren Burvill

    Address: 131 Waterloo Road, Lambeth, London SE1 8UR


    Telephone: +44 020 7401 8958


    Website: hellodarling.london

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE AMERICAN BAR AT THE STAFFORD, ST JAMES’S

    Revived cocktail legend with a pocketful of anecdotes

    There are some people who believe there’s only one American Bar in London. You know, the one with the cocktail book and the little museum, at The Savoy. So by all means start to tell such people about this place, but then think better of it and walk away whistling. For while the Savoy bar is lovely and makes excellent drinks, this American Bar is squirrelled away on a little mews in St James’s and feels like a secret little part of London. It’s recently been refurbished, the counter given a handsome marble top and brass frame and extended, green velvet sofas added, and its collection of memorabilia (a flurry of club ties, model aircraft, baseball caps, signed photographs of famous visitors, as well as famous events, which rivalled the late, lamented Windsor Castle in Marylebone) edited down a little. American Bars were christened in the 1920s to appeal to transatlantic visitors hopping off ocean liners in search of a proper cocktail. In that sense, most bars in London are now American Bars. But this one at the Stafford Hotel has some of the best stories.


    DRINKS

    Despite being an American Bar, there’s always been a Frenchman in charge. The first was Louis Burdet, a former high-ranking French Resistance leader who helped liberate Marseille. The current one, Benoit Provost, is only the third since the bar opened in the 1930s – he came to London for a year to improve his English and ended up staying for a quarter of a century. Memorable guests on the other side of the counter include Prince Harry, who brought David Beckham along, and Paul Newman, who just ordered a beer (this is also the only bar with a signed photo of Bill Nighy, as verified by the actor himself). Yes, Benoit’s English has improved, but more importantly the cocktail list has been refined. The 12 drinks are inspired by the history and characters of St James’s, including Ian Fleming (The Moonraker, gin with rhubarb liqueur, elderflower cordial and Champagne), the Queen Mother (The QM, which mixes gin with her favourite Dubonnet, as well as pear, Benedictine and lemon juice) and Sherlock Holmes (The Moriarty, a fiendishly potent mix of tequila, mezcal, citrus and agave). But first-time visitors should order the gin-sour-style White Mouse (saffron gin with fizz, lemon juice, rosemary syrup and egg white) and toast the bust of the incredible woman who inspired it, which sits on the left-hand side of the bar: Nancy Wake, an American Bar regular and a resistance fighter who parachuted into France, rang rings around the Gestapo, and who in her 80s returned to The Stafford and lived here for two years.


    FOOD

    Ben Tish, who founded and ran the smoking Salt Yard group, has taken over the hotel’s restaurant, Game Bird, and brought a whole larder of flavours to the American Bar – go large with plates such as chicken Milanese or charcoal-grilled ribeye, or snack on tender skewers of chorizo and piquillo pepper, pea croquettes, pork pinchos and Chiltern Firehouse-style crab doughnuts.


    THE VERDICT

    Certainly not a museum piece – for a quiet central-London drink, this is splendid, with a rare outside terrace in the mews for long summer drinks.

    Address: The Stafford, 16-18 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NJ


    Telephone: +44 20 7493 0111


    Website: thestaffordlondon.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    ST JOHN AT HACKNEY BREWERY

    Craft ale with a mission – and a large beer garden – in Hackney’s latest foodie hub

    A few years ago, had someone asked for a pint of Wu Gang Chops The Tree, or Fearless Spreadsheet Ninja, one would assume they’d either been a bit too liberal with the magic mushrooms or were quoting an ancient Monty Python sketch. But as anyone who’s recently dawdled at the taprooms of Tottenham’s Beavertown brewery or in switched-on pubs such as The Wigmore will know, craft ale in London is big – foamingly big, with almost every postcode having its own craft brewer, feverishly designing manga-style labels for limited-edition saisons and porters and pale ales. Now there’s a new ale champion, St John at Hackney Brewery (no relation to Fergus Henderson’s joint), which has set up its gleaming fermentation tanks under the railway arches on the aptly named Bohemia Place, Hackney’s latest hot destination (pop-up Night Tales opens full-time nearby in July, with Japanese bites and a mezcal bar). The warehouse-sized space has real character, with smoke-blackened brickwork, steel-framed windows, a lovely lattice of bare timber in the architrave above, and reclaimed church pews along the walls. At the back is a sprawling beer garden with long tables from where you can watch trains spark and rumble on the tracks above the brewery. The pews are a little design pun, as the Rector of nearby St John at Hackney, one of London’s most credible churches – it’s hosted gigs by Florence and the Machine and Coldplay – has been a key driving force behind getting the project off the ground.

    DRINKS

    The team here are passionate about their ale. Founder Luke Scanlon gave free rein to American craft-ale obsessive Ryan Robbins, and the results so far are lovely and very drinkable, though still being tweaked. But current favourites from the ones made on the premises are the citrussy IPA No 2 – the names are refreshingly straightforward, so far – which Ryan describes as having a ‘smooth mouth feel’, and the lager, a crisp, Munich-style creation with an American spin. But aficionados should try a third of a pint of the Imperial stout, fragrant with toasty, chocolatey, coffee flavours. Grab a beer tasting with Ryan when he has the time. The bar will also be showcasing beers from other London and UK breweries – highlights include an incredible blueberry sour from Charlton Brewing Co, and a non-alcoholic pale ale from Infinite Session.

    FOOD

    The team invited in Emilio Stavrou, who channeled his favourite kebab shop in Nicosia for inspiration, with chicken thigh and pork skewers and pita pockets, but also catering to Hackney’s substantial vegetarian/vegan population with tempeh and charcoal-grilled halloumi-and-pear fillings, smoked aubergine dip and Mediterranean-fresh salads of crunchy cabbage and coriander and smoked chickpeas.

    THE VERDICT

    Just the place for long, outdoor summer ale-quaffing. Brewer Ryan reckons that the UK is about 10 years behind the USA when it comes to craft ale, but places like this are closing the gap.

    By Rick Jordan

  • The best bars in London right now

    Dukes Bar, St James’s

    A cute little bar in a cute little hotel in a cute little side-street in St James’s

    When they arrive – on a cute little trolley that’s wheeled right up alongside your table – the cocktails look cute and little too. Don’t be fooled. Proceed with the utmost caution. The first one’s fine, the second one’s even finer, but the third one will knock you into the middle of next week and steal your shoes. The bar is beautiful at any time of the day or night. There’s something about the look and feel of the place – cushy and country-housey, impeccably proper and ever so slightly louche – that’s just right.

    DRINKS

    Ian Fleming was a regular and came up with James Bond’s famous ‘shaken not stirred’ directive here. Martini freaks worship the current head bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, as a god among men. I know it’s heresy to say so, but I don’t really care for martinis. Never have. Though it’s highly entertaining to watch Alessandro fling vermouth across the room, as he does whenever he makes a martini, I’d much rather ask him to surprise me with something less familiar. At the time of my most recent visit, earlier this week, he’d come up with a new cocktail to mark the hotel’s 110th birthday. The 1908 contains vodka infused with verbena from Alessandro’s garden, a Queen Motherly slosh of Dubonnet, a drop of crème de cacao and a twist of Amalfi lemon. Absolute dynamite. And it’s as much fun listening to Alessandro talk about it as it is to drink. (You might get the conversation started by asking him what he thinks about people who order herbal tea in bars, as the old biddies used to do when he worked at The Ritz in Paris.)

    BAR SNACKS

    Bowls of plump green olives and crunchy bitings are provided, though I’m ashamed to say that, after all these years, I still haven’t got around to tasting them. If you’re hungry, there’s an excellent restaurant downstairs, GBR, which has just reopened after an elegant makeover. It also has its own charming bar, staffed by members of Alessandro’s team, so there’s no need to worry about your hands starting to shake when you reach for your cutlery.

    VERDICT

    Among the best of the best bars in London, anywhere, ever.

    Steve King

    Address: Dukes Hotel, St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NY


    Telephone: +44 20 7493 1264


    Website: dukeshotel.com

    BARS IN LONDON OPENING ON 13 AUGUST 2020

  • The best bars in London right now

    Nine Lives, Bermondsey

    Zero-waste cocktails with a killer soundtrack

    East London has pioneered the sustainable drinking movement in the city, with bars like Scout and Super Lyan championing local produce, repurposed ingredients and upcycled materials. Now, London Bridge is having a go with the opening of Nine Lives. Here, disused speakers have been repurposed as planting boxes for staff to grow their own ingredients in, and leftover citrus scraps from cocktail-making (not usually suitable for composting) are PH-balanced to help them grow. Aside from mindful mixology, you’ll find a fantastic atmosphere, groovy music and the friendliest staff. The sound system is impressive — and perfect on Saturday nights when the bar hosts guest DJs. Note, there are plenty of nooks and corners to chill out in if you’re not looking for a party. Plus, there’s a shuffleboard in the back which is utterly addictive.

    DRINKS

    Why has the combination of whisky, coconut and salted caramel been so hard to come by? The Moby Dick, which blends all three is a revelation. Multiple mixologists here have participated in Diageo’s World Class cocktail competition, so it’s no surprise that the drinks menu is both innovative and appetising. Must-tries include the Kuti Bird, a fruity delight which arrives in a tiki cup, and a floral prosecco-based Alright Blossom. But, really, the whole drinks menu is worth sampling. Once you’ve made your way through that, wash it down with a shot of the homemade mezcal — the faintest hint of passionfruit makes it almost too easy on the palate.

    BAR SNACKS

    You get more than a snack at Nine Lives, which is a very good thing considering how many drinks we’ve just suggested you try. Fresh ingredients, rich cheese and fantastic meats are used to make wood-fired pizzas. Try the ‘white’ (no tomato) salsiccia pizza, which comes with fresh Sicilian sausage and lush friarielli. The Verde Ortolana, topped with roast veg, mushrooms and artichokes is perfect for herbivores and omnivores alike.

    THE VERDICT

    This is one of those places where you’ll become pals with the staff and never want to leave. Comfy, trendy, fun, relaxed and eco-conscious all at once.

    By Lauren Hepburn

    Address: Nine Lives, 8 Holyrood Street, Bermondsey, London SE1 2EL


    Telephone: +44 20 7407 8226


    Website: ninelivesbar.com

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  • The best bars in London right now

    The Vault, Soho

    A clandestine, candle-lit scene beneath the streets of Soho

    Everyone knows that you get to Hogwarts via Platform 9 3/4 and Narnia is only accessible by a wardrobe full of fur coats. But back in reality, locals know you get to the one of the best secret bars in London in the capital through a heavy bookcase at number 3, Greek Street. Also known as Milroy’s, the oldest whisky bar in London, number 3 is also home to The Vault, a beloved underground Soho bar with a steep staircase and a neon-lit sign. On entry, after you adjust to the low-lit space and smell of incense, you’re ushered through to a tiny candle-lit table. In the main bar, there’s only space for around 20 people, and it’s no surprise that you can detect date nights on at least half the tables (there’s also another room at the back, which feels like being on the inside of a whisky barrel). The brick walls are decorated with local art by ‘our friend Luke’ and by contemporary urban artist Anna Laurini, whose street art is prolific in London; you might recognise variations of her bold abstracts from around town (a red-lipped lady called ‘the face’ is her signature). There’s background jazz music but it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t drown out a lively hum of chatter or an easy banter between staff. You leave wanting to be friends with all of them; they’re kind, easygoing and on-the-ball.

    DRINKS

    Directing the team is head bartender Chris Tanner, previously of Soho linchpins Experimental Cocktail Club and Milk & Honey, as well as Satan’s Whiskies in Bethnal Green. He likes to keep things simple; drinks are unconventional but not overcomplicated, and he uses seasonal ingredients (and his own home-made bitters) where he can. The concise menu offers nine cocktails, and the least pretentious wine list I’ve ever seen – just choose between ‘red’ or ‘white’. Perhaps it’s intentional, to put people off; the cocktails are the real deal here, and it would be foolish to miss out on the foamy, fragrant Pandan Sour made with pisco and peat or a clean, coconut and fig leaf Martini for a nameless glass of wine. The French 94 is a bittersweet Campari cocktail made with pineapple and white vermouth which tastes like the first bite of a blood orange, and the Yuzu Gimlet is a devastatingly elegant, deadly alcoholic drink served with a single ice cube in a beautiful Nick and Nora glass (a delicate 1940s style named after the inebriated fictional characters in Dashiell Hammett’s novel A Thin Man). The Brandy Highball is a crowd-pleaser, but it’s the Kingston Cocktail that is set to be a favourite as the capital gets colder, made with Jamaican rum, allspice and kummel; it’s warming, smooth and comforting, the tropical equivalent of mulled wine in winter.

    FOOD

    There’s no food at The Vault – if you’re hungry, head down the road to 10 Greek Street or Michelin-starred L’Escargot (read our list of the best restaurants in Soho for more ideas).

    VERDICT

    Intimate not intimidating, cosy not cramped; The Vault is a warm, welcoming space you’ll want to return to again and again. By Anna Prendergast


    Address: The Vault (via Milroy’s), 3 Greek St, Soho, London W1D 4NX


    Website: thevaultsoho.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    QUAGLINO’S, ST JAMES’S

    Star-struck legend with a basement-full of anecdotes and A-list cocktails


    What’s the most stolen object in London? The iPhone perhaps, or one of those bike-scheme rides? Back in the 1990s, it was probably the ashtray from Quaglino’s: a Deco-style, pewter-toned Q that somehow made its way into countless bags. Different era, different times… You can now pick one up from eBay for around £50, and it makes a rather good salt-and-pepper dish. Quags, as it was known, was quite the talk of the town back then, rarely out of the gossip columns after Terence Conran relaunched it in 1993 – this place has almost as many celebrity stories as Elton John’s autobiography, the memories of which still drift around the joint like cigarette smoke. Princess Di would creep in through the kitchen to avoid snappers; Ab Fab’s Patsy and Edina would alight here after a little sniff around Gucci. And before that previous incarnations, in Jazz Age London with Evelyn Waugh and Barbara Cartland, who once found a pearl in her oyster, and the 1950s, when a table would always be set aside for Princess Margaret and her sister. Judy Garland held the reception for her fifth wedding here in 1969, although the cake was frozen solid and barely anyone turned up. Quaglino’s was relaunched again in 2014, and while the sleb-count is lower these days, it’s still a magnetic underground rendezvous, a film set of a space with mighty vases of flowers, a staircase to flounce down like Grace Kelly, and nightly performances on stage.

    DRINKS

    Back in the 1940s, it was all about the Booth’s gin, but these days there are far more playful creations that draw on techniques such as clarification and fermentation, home-made shrubs, zero-alcohol Seedlip serves and a larder of out-there ingredients (bee pollen garum, pistachio milk), with knowing nods towards the bar’s colourful history. The summer-weight Her Majesty, for example – tequila, yuzu and grapefruit soda – referring to the time the Queen visited in 1956, the first time a monarch had eaten in a restaurant. Despite its reputation, this isn’t a bar stuck in Nineties nostalgia – where else do you find papaya wine, or pineapple mead? The whimsical Wishes cocktail list has creations such as No Borders, a globe-trotting hit of whisky, sherry, amaro and peanut butter; while Equality is a mix of Pina Colada and rum Negroni that works very well. Try the seasonal Rainy Days just for a rare sip of roast pumpkin gin and to find out exactly what lacto koji water tastes like.


    FOOD

    Well, truffly fries and crispy calamari never go amiss, do they? Plenty of greatest-hits bar food here, given little twists. There’s mushroom arancini and truffle mayonnaise, or chicken-liver parfait served with a Bonfire Night whiff of apple in a charcoal cornetto. Oysters Rockefeller too.


    VERDICT

    A Baz Luhrmann-style, showstopping subterranean world where it’s always just before midnight and the carriages haven’t turned into pumpkins. Try not to steal the cocktail glasses.

  • The best bars in London right now

    MURDER INC, FITZROVIA

    A quirky new speakeasy spot from the team behind some of London’s most inventive cocktails

    Shoreditch’s The Cocktail Trading Co – which finally landed a permanent Brick Lane home in 2016 after a wildly successful pop-up on Carnaby Street – made its name for its witty, over-the-top creative tipples. Drinks – served in giant seashells, a hot air balloon, or even a Chinese takeaway carton – came with golf balls as ice cubes, a set of dentures as a garnish or a portion of chips as a bizarre topping. Founders Andy Mil, Olly Brading and Elliot Ball quickly racked up a string of awards for their no-limits ingenuity, and now the boys have opened a second venture – a gritty, gangster-themed drinking den in a dark and moody basement on a Fitzrovia backstreet. And although the place takes its cocktails seriously, the earnestness stops there. Donald Trump greets guests at the door (in the form of a life-size, grinning photograph, with ‘Old Douche Lane’ emblazoned across his chest…); inside, walls are lined with tongue-in-cheek, black-and-white photographs of hustlers and bad boys. Some of the decor is downright random (look out for the signed picture of Charlie Sheen in the loos), but the exposed brickwork and red neon lights give the place a sultry New York speakeasy feel. There’s live music some nights of the week too – but it’s a tiny space, so get here early if you want a seat.

    DRINKS

    There’s less smoke and mirrors here than at Murder Inc’s sister bar in Shoreditch, but that’s not to say drinks aren’t still served with a smack of theatricality. Expect all kinds of curious syrups, sherbets and garnishes (including walnut masala, tarte tatin sherbet and tonka bean egg yolk) – but start with the signature cocktail, Death in the Afternoon. It’s served on tap, a Listerine-blue, souped-up (and infinitely more delicious) version of Hemingway’s original, sweetened with a dash of ginger and agave syrup. Twists on the classics are the main theme – like the Long Irn Iced Tea, a hot mess of a drink topped up with Scotland’s favourite fizz, and the punny Hench 75, made with Plymouth Navy gin, a silky-smooth calvados, bergamot and sparkling wine. If you’ve come straight from supper, the Banana Ramos’s artery-clogging blend of coconut cream, banana milk and Jägermeister makes a perfect pudding – or keep the night going with a jug of frozen margarita. Absinthe makes a lot of appearances too. Best of all, prices are incredibly affordable – most cocktails hover around the £9 mark, and there’s a daily happy hour too.


    FOOD

    There isn’t any – but Fitzrovia’s a foodie hotspot so there’s no shortage of dining options nearby. Hakkasan is literally next door; there’s Ottolenghi’s vegetable- and fermentation-led Rovi just up the road and around the corner the larger than life, shiny brand new Circolo Popolare.


    VERDICT

    Unpretentious, affordable and fun without feeling gimmicky – this is the perfect place to go to fill the pre- or post-dinner lag.

    Address: Murder Inc, 36 Hanway Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1UP


    Telephone: +44 20 7427 6097


    Website: murderinclondon.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Tayer + Elementary

    A double-whammy bar near the hip hubbub of Old Street

    The London cocktail scene has been all aflutter ahead of this new arrival: the first solo bar project for Czech-born Alex Kratena, who helmed the Artesian bar at the Langham when it was named the World’s Best Bar for four years in a row, and his partner Monica Berg, formerly of Oslo’s next-gen speakeasy Himkok. Out front is Elementary, an industrial space of exposed vents where light tumbles in through floor-to-ceiling windows and the action is centred around a single, long wooden bar. This is also where Alex keenly points out the seasonal wall: hanging wooden cards that show the fruit, herbs and other ingredients that he’s currently using in his cocktails. Behind a concrete wall imprinted with jars and glasses to look like bamboo is more dimly lit and boundary-pushing Tayer (from the Spanish word taller, or workshop). This seems to be Monica’s domain; she coolly mixes drinks behind the sleek, horseshoe wooden counter where bottles are stored in a stainless-steel, hip-level bar station she and Alex designed in line with the minimalist decor. The cleverly textured water glasses seem to be carved out of tree bark, giving a sense of nature although you’re surrounded by concrete and steel.

    DRINKS

    In Elementary the menu has some familiar numbers, albeit with a twist: Nordic Old Fashioned gets a Scandi twist with aquavit and cedarwood; a Palo Santo Gimlet is made with gin, sherry, Lillet Blanc and a cordial flavoured with the sacred South American wood usually used as incense, which Alex discovered on a trip to the Amazon – the resulting drink is incredibly crisp and clean. Little icons on the menu show you what size glass you can expect your drink to come in: highball, short or medium, with a single giant ice cube in each one. And there’s that all-important seasonal section, heavy on rhubarb at the time of our visit, namely in a Royal with Francinet-Remy Champagne. In Tayer the drinks list is a little trickier to figure out, with bolded-up ingredients being the only hint to the predominant flavour. The idea is to model it on how chefs would present a menu. Wood Sorrel, with gin, vermouth and sherry, is served in the most delicately stemmed Martini glass and tastes smooth with a herbal punch; Blood Orange has the kick of a Negroni from Campari and grappa, while Rhubarb is long and refreshing, with amaro, Apéritif de Normandie and soda.

    FOOD

    Tata Eatery has been one of the most buzzed about London restaurant pop-ups over the past year or so. And with good reason. Here it sets up a permanent base serving, among other dishes, the brilliant and now-famous sando (note: it often sells out): thick slices of pink Iberian pork with raspberry jam and XO shallot sauce in toasted brioche. There are also equally delicious anchovy soldiers topped with bottarga – a steal of a snack for £5 – and an oozing short-rib quesadilla with mint yogurt and seasonal herbs.

    VERDICT

    A sleek new start for a super-talented young team – and possibly the tastiest bar food in London. By Grainne McBride

  • The best bars in London right now

    Over Under, Earl’s Court

    A coffee shop speakeasy that flips from day to night

    You may have walked past this unassuming café by Earl’s Court station without even realising. The understated hole-in-the-wall is where coffee devotees go to get their morning fix, but come 5 o’clock, once the last of the regulars have been served, everything changes. Literally. Walls slide, tables flip and the curtains come down – suddenly the bright little London brunch spot with white and yellow accents is turned into a moody cocktail bar. This is Under by Night, the flip side of the coin to Over Under Coffee. Founded by Ed Barry, the community-led space was originally just its daytime incarnation, but when customers started to spill out onto the street after hours, fuelled by espresso Martinis, Under by Night was born. Seating only around eight people, it’s the perfect balance of Scandi-style calm and post-work buzz.

    DRINK

    The cocktails are not what you’d expect. Where many new bars have failed, Under By Night has triumphed, and then some: the concoctions are innovative without being gimmicky, and flavoursome not garish – the way cocktails were before hen-parties laid claim. The house special is Milk Punch – far from a sickly White Russian, the drink is actually a clear, smooth Martini, with notes of lime and coconut, served in a minimalist tumbler. It even contains chai, so you can trick yourself into thinking it’s healthy. For pudding, try Popcorn OG – a weighty bourbon with a hint of popcorn sugar that comes with a toasted marshmallow.

    FOOD

    The bar snacks are exactly what you want with an after-work tipple – the London-standard side-coaster accompaniments of smoked almonds and giant mixed olives are on the menu, alongside burrata with green pesto and sourdough, and crab sliders with a leaf salad and lemon aioli. Just like the drinks, everything is considered, and even the simplest dishes are served to a high standard. If you’re sharing with a few friends, get the Copacollo plate, a mixed meat selection with truffle honey and focaccia.

    VERDICT

    A brilliant pit-stop between the office and dinner. By Charlotte Davey

    Address: Under By Night, 181A Earl’s Court Road, London SW5 9RB


    Telephone: no telephone number


    Website: overundercoffee.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Lyaness, South Bank

    A new opening replaces London’s best bar

    When mixology magnate Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) announced that Dandelyan bar (one of the best bars in London) would close to make way for a new project, everyone was shocked. How could he possibly improve on a place that topped the The World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2018, alongside a clutch of other accolades which it accumulated during its four short years in operation? ‘The landscape and the conversation has shifted,’ he announced on Instagram. ‘It makes sense to start afresh.’ And so he has, beginning with the interiors: swapping Dandelyan’s jewel tones for a more soothing palette of blue and grey, and using electric-blue velvet banquettes to add a contemporary touch to the room’s Art Deco feel. But most importantly, he’s challenging our approach to drinking – again. At Lyaness, not sticking to the menu is encouraged. Trying something new is practically compulsory.

    DRINKS

    Expect to be impressed. The ingredients’ playful names and unexpected flavours come hand-in-hand with a very contemporary invite to be as experimental as you want. The menu centres around seven unique ingredients, each with a psychedelic name. Customer favourite, the Infinite Banana cordial, takes the team a full week to cook up. A sip on its own tastes like honey-dipped, perfectly ripe banana, but it’s best served with Bombay Sapphire, Bacardi Cuatro, toasted coconut and lemon, then topped off with a slither of freshly baked banana-bread crisp and a drop of orange butter. This is Lyaness’ dangerously moreish take on the Double Painkiller. Next up, Purple Pineapple, whose floral notes add complexity to the tropical flavour. Try it in a Piña Colada for a refined version of the classic. King Monkey Nut (which tastes exactly like a peanut) is unexpectedly delicious with citrus in the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club cocktail. ONYX is an elegant sake-like liquor with serious umami and a gorgeous pink colouring; Aromatised Milk resonates with the sour taste of keffir (or childhood favourite, Petit Filous); The smoky vanilla-ey Old Fashioned Whisky, developed at a Scottish distillery, adds a silky hint of caramel to a Sazerac. The seventh ingredient, Ultra Raspberry, bursts with tangy flavour. Ask for it in a Dog’s Nose Clover Club. They’ll know what you mean – and you won’t regret it.

    SNACKS

    Bar Bites undersells these small plates, which are more like top notch canapés than they are snacks. The Trio of Tacos (jerk pulled pork, seabass and bream ceviche and goats cheese with honey) is mind-blowingly good. Of course, if you’re drinking whisky, Haggis Croquettes are essential. By Lauren Hepburn

    VERDICT

    Lyaness is doing something entirely new and it’s well worth experiencing. For cocktail-lovers, a visit is a must.

    Address: Lyaness, Sea Containers London, 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London, SE1 9PD


    Telephone: +44 20 3747 1063


    Website: lyaness.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Vault at The Ned, Bank

    An exclusive watering hole that proves London’s financial district isn’t all business

    In his signature style, The Ned’s co-creator Nick Jones took the idea of a lock-in to new, subterranean levels at the hotel’s cavernous basement bar, which sits beneath the main food court at the bottom of an imperial staircase. The Grade I-listed building used to be the headquarters of Midland Bank, and The Vault’s design playfully honours its history. Behind a 25-tonne, one-metre-thick round door, more than 3,000 of the bank’s original brushed-steel deposit boxes line the walls, stamped with numbers and reflecting a low, lampshade-softened glow back into the bar. The cool, metallic surroundings are offset by carefully contrasting textures, such as tapestry-backed chairs (a nod to the Tapestry Room, upstairs, which displays a famous wall hanging that was the largest of its kind when it was produced in the 1920s) and velvet-upholstered studded sofas. Seating is angled towards a small stage, where live music and DJs such as Maya Jane Coles and Rob da Bank rotate on a nightly basis. We went on a Monday night, and even then a wonderfully camp contingent of The Cantus Ensemble chamber choir provided the sound of the underground, with a cappella versions of songs by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and – unexpectedly – Kylie Minogue.

    DRINKS

    The Vault’s cocktail menu changes with the seasons and, as of this week, offers a summery flavour profile. In spite of itself, the Ceci N’est Pas une Piña Colada (This is Not a Piña Colada) is inspired by the retro pineapple cocktail, kicked up a notch or three with a dash of chilli and infused with absinthe (one more of these and our Tuesday morning would have been considerably more unpleasant). Head of bars Max Ostwald’s new-age M-Maybe Sling also slides down far too easily, with a slippery viscosity balanced by the bite of the tart cranberry flavour. Both are fruity, sweet and as easy to drink as tropical punch, but for something less saccharine, The Pink Panther is light, dry and fragrant. The Rubin Vase tastes like coconut and Campari and, just like the optical illusion it’s named after, too many of them may cause you to think you’re seeing things.

    FOOD

    You can snack on maraschino cherries and olives off the top of your cocktails, but otherwise, The Vault doesn’t serve food. You’ll hardly go hungry at The Ned, though: pay a visit to Cecconi’s for lively Italian, Kaia for clean Asian cuisine or the Nickel Bar for diner-style comfort food.

    VERDICT

    It’s thought that The Ned’s members- and guests-only rooftop pool is one of the best bits, but we’d put our money on this polished pocket of stiff drinks and smooth talkers being a membership highlight. By Anna Prendergast

    Address: The Vault at The Ned, 27 Poultry, London EC2R 8AJ


    Telephone: +44 20 3828 2002


    Website: thened.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    ARTESIAN BAR AT THE LANGHAM

    Innovative cocktails at a classic hotel bar in Marylebone

    Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, or so Newton’s Third Law states. The new bar team at Artesian – Remy Savage, formerly of Paris speakeasy Little Red Door, and Anna Sebastian, ex the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy Hotel – have proven this theory with the launch of their Cause, Effect & Classic Cocktails menu, which playfully examines how a classic drink can be changed using different ingredients. For example, they’ve taken a Screwdriver, but swapped the vodka for Kappa Pisco to add a layer of floral complexity. And when it comes to the orange juice, three different types are used: centrifuged, slow-juiced and hand-squeezed. Previously named number one by the World’s 50 Best Bars for four years on the trot, Artesian is a favourite among those who like a smart tipple in London and the new menu is bringing an exciting buzz.


    DRINKS

    The jam-packed drinks list includes an extensive selection of wine, endless rums and the most delicious Champagne. Where the fun really begins, though, is with the bartender equivalent of a chef’s amuse-bouche: dry vermouth, green chartreuse, cucumber cordial and eucalyptus oil. It’s almost healthy enough to convince yourself to have a second. Next, order the Gimlet: the old-school cocktail is served in three shot-sized glasses, all resting in a hunk of ice and infused with lime juice from three different countries (Mexico, Japan and Italy). For something slightly less punchy, try the Artesian’s version of the classic Bees Knees, which uses honey made near juniper plants for a fruity and piney flavour.


    BAR SNACKS

    Two words: the nuts. Sugary, salty and spicy: the small pot you are served on arrival seems to refill all on its own. If you fancy something a bit more substantial, there is a Snax menu from executive chef Chris King and Michel Roux Jr of two-Michelin starred Le Gavroche, which includes a hearty charcuterie plate, crispy calamari with black garlic aioli and creamy hummus with flaky za’atar pastry twists.


    THE VERDICT

    Impeccable service and creative cocktails in a classic hotel bar.

    By Katharine Sohn

    Address: Artesian at The Langham, 1C Portland Place, Marylebone, London W1B 1JA


    Telephone: +44 207 636 1000


    Website: artesian-bar.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Dickie’s Bar, Mayfair

    Accomplished cocktails with a Dead Rabbit spin

    Winter seems just the right season for Dickie’s, after a brisk late-afternoon amble through the bucolic byways and lanes of Mayfair, clad in green Irish tweed and with your horn-tipped country stick to hand. The bar is Richard Corrigan’s urban hunting lodge, adjoining the Dublin-born chef’s restaurant but with its own entrance, and recently refurbished and recast, with be-boppy blue leaf-print sofas, lots of polished wood, Deco-style brass and leather stools at the counter, and a spectacular stag’s-skull sculpture guarding the bottles. Staff wear workmanlike brown denim aprons — but there’s real artistry here. Corrigan invited Gregory Buda from New York’s award-winning, best-bar-in-the-world-probably Dead Rabbit to create new flavours and cocktails, drawing on the chef’s Irish background and ingredients from his Cavan estate, and the results are darn delicious.

    DRINKS

    Irish whiskey is the big star here, but it won’t wallop you into submission: the peaty, smoky flavours are tempered by lighter, spicier ingredients. Order The Professional Stalker and you get a Christmas-pudding mix of pot-still whiskey, cognac, fig, allspice and bitters; Stage Door Johnny adds soft peach, bergamot, vanilla and lemon to Jameson. Those following the trend for lower-alcohol drinks will lap up the highballs, made using house-infused sodas and tinctures, such as a peppery gin and blackberry and a Scotch & Coriander with crème de poire. The bar runs its own masterclasses if you fancy learning how to make these at home.

    FOOD

    As you’d expect from a Corrigan bar, the snacks are brilliant: fried stuffed olives, oyster croquet monsieurs, and ham-hock and black-pudding croquettes that will disappear faster than a rabbit down its hole.

    THE VERDICT

    A relaxed, atmospheric alternative to Claridge’s Bar for a superior Mayfair snifter or two

  • The best bars in London right now

    Mint Gun Club, Stoke Newington

    A neighbourhood bar with a worldwide cast

    The Dalston-Stokey strip has an already-strong bunch of drinking dens (Original Sin, Ruby’s, Untitled), but none have as impressive a global line-up as Richie Hunt’s cosy joint, the Mint Gun Club. French Hennessey sits happily shoulder-to-shoulder with Japanese yuzu and Icelandic vodka, and there are enough varieties of vermouth to make Hemingway blush. Hunt has won Bartender of the Year in the past and ran the booze train at Hawksmoor and Milk & Honey, so he’s worth his salt (and lime — he’s also a regular face on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube drinks channel). So, sit back and let him and his jolly crew take you on a grand tour. You’re in safe hands.

    DRINK

    Nothing is shaken here — tinctures, syrups and essences are prepared during the day by the team, ready to be stirred into action come nightfall. The drinks menu is split into four sections — Gimlets, Apéritifs , Sodas and Nightcaps — and we recommend you try at least one of each (not as lethal as it sounds). In terms of gimlets, it’s a tough choice between the Gun Club (cacao-nib gin, Wolfschmidt Kümmel — a heady aniseed-and-caraway liqueur — and kaffir-lime cordial) and the Rudie’s (elderflower liqueur, shiso tonic and Wray & Nephew — who knew this mega-strong Caribbean rum could be so drinkable and complement the delicate flavour of Japanese shiso?). Next, try the floral Beach Club apéritif, a mix of melon-and-citrus-infused wine with a heady Champagne reduction. If that hasn’t got you in the travelling mood yet, stop off at Little Italy for the Negroni-like Quiet Americano (strawberry-infused Campari, a secret vermouth blend and pomelo soda), and finish with the vodka-based Monsoon nightcap which, thanks to the flowery kerwa water, is surprisingly light.

    BAR SNACKS

    The global flavour combinations aren’t limited to just liquids. ‘Have a little bit of what you fancy’ is the motto on the menu. And as is the current trend, nothing is wasted. The pineapples used to infuse port are cleverly turned into a reinvention of the eighties classic ‘pineapple and cheese’, while almonds are used for a rich almond hummus as well as tangy kefir (a gut-friendly fermented drink). If you’re feeling adventurous, we recommend letting Hunt whip up a plate of bits and bobs so you can just enjoy the ride — from Spanish anchovies to smoked-salmon with punchy chermoula and ricotta, and a simple slice of creamy Cornish Yarg cheese with sweet rice-malt syrup to bring you back to home soil.

    THE VERDICT

    There’s something Conigliaro-esque about Hunt’s creative concoctions. Everything here is slightly unexpected — but all in a comforting and familiar way. This is a real one-to-watch.

    By Roxy Mirshahi

    Address: 4a Brooke Rd, London N16 7JN


    Telephone: +44 20 7686 0862


    Website: mintgunclub.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Beaufort Bar at the Savoy, Covent Garden

    A spectacular showstopping cocktail bar on the Strand

    The Savoy’s vintage American Bar is the one you draw up a stool at, order a classic Martini and try to out-do the white-jacketed bartender with cocktail anecdotes (he’ll win). It’s also the one that gets the queues. The Beaufort, tucked away down the stairs and round the corner is more elusive, more rakish and far more tantalising — a gold-and-black Deco salon with a real sense of drama. It’s a place for snappy one-liners, lacquered talons and raised, severely pencilled eyebrows. If Gypsy Rose Lee had flounced off the stage of Sondheim’s legendary Gypsy at the Savoy Theatre, it’s here she would have headed to order a Showgirl cocktail, doubtless followed by the current troupe of Dreamgirls. Unlike the American Bar (born 1904), it opened only in 2010, in the space formerly occupied by a cabaret stage known to George Gershwin and generations of vaudeville hoofers. The tradition endures, with regular performances and monthly burlesque nights.

    DRINKS

    It’s one of the best bars in London so these may take a while to choose. The menu is one of the most beautiful you’ll hold in your hands — following on from the previous pop-up list, this is an artful, Art Nouveau-style, Hans Christian Anderson of a tunnel book whose cut-outs stitch together stories and famous guests from the Savoy’s long history, from Fred Astaire dancing on the roof and wartime parties to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi. It’s a shameless namedropper. Many of the impeccably well-made drinks, all in vintage glasses, loosely reference alumni such as Marlene Dietrich, Amy Johnson and Katharine Hepburn.There’s enough experimentation to hold the interest without toppling into novelty — chocolate fragrance, a taste of ‘leather’, even London ‘fog’ too; there’s a shrub or two, and whey milk, and some drinks are garnished like a flowergirl’s bonnet. Order The Old Magic, for its puddingy mix of Grey Goose, Guinness, chocolate, orange and vanilla, topped with Champagne. And the wonderfully savoury Incognito, which matches Patron Anejo tequila with popcorn, Averna, Martini Rubino and walnut. With one or two drinks coming in at £50, it’s not a cheap date, but then the Beaufort is not a bar you should flirt with on a nightly basis. It’s also the place to cherish a glass of Egly-Ouriet Champagne, at a mere £38.

    FOOD

    As you’re here for a special occasion, you may as well order the foie gras lollipops, if sensitivities allow, or else the beetroot macaroons laced with creamy goat’s cheese.

    THE VERDICT

    This is a tour-de-force bar that should be on anyone’s top 10 list, a place for modern-day Oscar Wildes to sprawl on a chaise longue and spend more of someone else’s money than they might actually have intended. Along with the Connaught Bar and the Langham’s Artesian, this is one of London’s best hotel bars.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: Beaufort Bar, Savoy, 99 Strand, London WC2R 0EU


    Telephone: +44 20 7836 4343


    Website: fairmont.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Eve Bar, Covent Garden

    Playful cocktails in a super-cool drinking den

    Below Frog, Adam Handling’s Covent Garden restaurant, sits Eve – a play on the young-gun chef’s first name and an exploration of all things leading to temptation. The space itself is dark and moody, the entrance concealed behind what deceptively looks like a huge, rather unmovable wall, under a neon sign reading ‘resist EVErything but temptation’. Clever, yes, and cool, definitely, with all the atmosphere and finesse of a great speakeasy – a different world from the heaving streets of Covent Garden above.


    DRINKS

    Everything here is meticulously thought out, with cocktails in three sections charting Eve’s fall from naivety to disgrace. The first, Innocence, is packed with light, bright drinks to kick it all off; the raspingly tart Adam’s Apple is made with gin, pink-lady cordial and Calvados, and served with a tiny toffee apple on the side, while the Sobremesa matches tequila with watermelon soda, Suze bitters and Ancho Reyes Verde, a nicely spicy chilli liquor. Next comes Temptation: the Uncensored is Eve’s super-classy take on a Porn Star Martini. Made with whiskey instead of vodka, it keeps the usual passion-fruit flavours, but adds more unusual tonka bean and miso, and swaps the traditional shot of prosecco for a Champagne ice lolly which fizzes and pops before breaking. If you’re continuing on to Indulgence – and you should — the Good & Evil requires a full, chemistry-set-style assembly. An ice cube of Black Russian is melted by adding a heady mix of Reyka vodka, split cream, cold-brew coffee, maple syrup and Fernet-Branca, changing the temperament of the drink with every sip as the cocktail turns from light to dark. It’s great fun.


    FOOD

    The food is every bit as good as the drinks. Coming from Frog’s kitchen upstairs, the razor clams are quite possibly the prettiest bar snack ever – served in their shell with hazelnut and apple – and delicious to boot. The cheese-and-truffle doughnuts are little pockets of intense gooey flavour and the smoked-cod tuiles topped with caviar, are just rich enough. Not only that, but they’re all reasonably priced.

    THE VERDICT

    This clever little bar is very cool without being too try-hard, and a sign that Covent Garden really is smartening up its game.

    By Sarah James

    Address: Eve Bar, 34 Southampton St, London WC2E 7HF


    Website: evebar.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Clarendon Cocktail Cellar, Pimlico

    Backstreet charmer with hidden depths

    Another night, another bare-brick cocktail cellar… But this is delightful backwater Pimlico, in all its faded stucco glory, an area that’s been admirably resistant to fickle fashions. Cocktail dens are as rare as steak tartare. The building used to be known as the Country Pub in London, awash with red trousers and red faces, but was recently taken over by Justin and Charlotte Salisbury, who opened their third Artist Residence hotel here (other outposts are in Brighton and Penzance). Up top are 10 fun, retro-cool bedrooms, with a buzzy restaurant at ground level. The bar opened early in 2016, with dangling storm lanterns, pouting red bar stools, a changing gallery of artworks and a blazing neon question mark on the wall.

    DRINKS

    Bar team Stephen and French-born Warren create their own bitters and infusions (hop aroma, horseradish tincture), and most cocktails are inspired by works of art, from Hogarth’s Gin Lane and Beer Street (you guessed it, gin, with IPA reduction and yellow chartreuse) to Magritte’s ‘Son of a Man’ (apple cider brandy, peach and Amaretto). But the masterpiece here is the Drunken Mermaids (based on a work by Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão), an avant-garde Caipirinha that swirls Cachaça with fig, honey and a tangy blue-cheese tincture, all slurped up through a slowly dissolving cocoa straw.

    BAR SNACKS

    Crispy pork and soft-shell-crab sliders (the latter with a lovely kale and lime mayo) — Pop Art in its most moreish form (you’ll pop them down in seconds).

    By Rick Jordan

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE FUMOIR, CLARIDGE’S

    A London institution serving some of the capital’s best cocktails

    Someone asked me the other day whether there was anything about Claridge’s that I would change. Nothing sprang to mind. Wanting to be a sport, however, I thought about it for a minute and said I would bring back smoking in The Fumoir. If that proved impossible or, as I suppose must be the case these days, illegal, then I would consider changing its name to The Fauxmoir. Still, the fact that you can no longer fume in the Fumoir is a loss in some ways but a gain in others. It is much easier now to make out the gorgeous little design flourishes, such as the elaborately etched Basil Ionides mirrors, that make The Fumoir one of the prettiest bars in the world as well as one of the best. In any case, successive cocktails – and you would be mad to stop at one – will supply a haze of a different and even more agreeable kind.

    DRINKS

    I could count on one hand the joints where, when asked what I would like, I would happily say ‘You tell me’ and remain confident that the result would be not merely OK but utterly marvellous. This is one of them. Though the phone-book-like drinks list will have rare-spirit fanatics drooling, to go ahead and order anything unmixed, such as a Karuizawa 1970 at £1,000 a dram (‘Make mine a double!’), would seem something of a shame. If ever there was a time and a place for a cocktail, this would be it. Preferably a classic cocktail. In the interest of science or scholarship – which, I have noticed, often run in parallel with the interest of acquiring a mild alcoholic buzz – you might ask the barkeep to fix you something totally old-school like a Sidecar, only in two versions. First the canonical, by-the-book version and then the as-made-in-The Fumoir saffron version. Both, I promise, will be sublime. A third, however, could well make coherent speech and a dignified exit tricky.

    BAR SNACKS

    ‘Snacks’ is not really the word. This is Claridge’s. Anything is possible. Lobster thermidor is possible. Ice cream and petit choux are possible. But if you are happy to keep things simple and your table cutlery-free, I recommend the smoked-salmon Moscovite cornets, with horseradish and caviar.

    VERDICT

    Hard to find for the first time (diagonally to the right off the lobby), but impossible to forget.

    Address: The Fumoir, Claridge’s, Brook Street, London W1K 4HR


    Telephone: +44 20 7629 8860


    Website: claridges.co.uk

    By Steve King

  • The best bars in London right now

    Night Tales Bohemia Place, Hackney

    An indoors-outdoors street-party in Hackney

    Is the pop-up over, popping off, shuffling off this mortal coil? We sense a desire for more rootedness in this uncertain world. Take Night Tales, an outfit that’s been popping up all over the shop, collaborating with DJs such as Disclosure, Rudimental and Groove Armada, and nu-foodie pioneers such as Bao, Rudie’s and the Good Egg. For the past few years they’ve hosted banging summer parties around Shoreditch and Hackney Wick, but have now found a permanent roost opposite Hackney Central in Bohemia Place, once the sort of neighbourhood that only the brave or foolish would have walked into, but now one of the area’s most dynamic hubs, with St John at Hackney Brewery next door. ‘Underneath the arches,’ sang Flanagan and Allen in a song you’re never likely to hear played here, ‘we dream our dreams away.’ Railway arches have helped incubate some of London’s most creative arrivals, from bakeries in London Fields to design studios and artist cooperatives in Brixton, though many are being priced out by rising rents. At Night Tales, though, there is shiny pink optimism, with rose-coloured booth seats, outdoor day beds under vaulted roofs – it’s a Balinese beach bar meets Tokyo night market, with candle light and dancing until 3am. It’s just unveiled its winter look, with Northern Lights inspired illuminations and heaters.

    DRINKS

    The two bars mix Japanese-inspired creations such as a Black Geisha (Beefeater, yuzu sake, orgeat and black sesame) and a Tokyo Old-Fashioned made with Nikka whiskey, as well as cold-brew Martini with agave. Come the cold weather and the hot cherry blossom punch will go down a treat.


    BAR SNACKS

    Peckham-based Sons of Slice has been satisfying appetites here with NY-style pizzas since Night Tales opened in July, while Fat Baby, a Tokyo-inspired hole-in-the-wall joint for grilled seafood and gyoza, has just gone legit with a proper, bookable restaurant space. There’s ox-cheek, duck and quail on the menu as well as grilled sweetcorn, fried tofu and a lovely white-miso ice cream.


    VERDICT

    A one-stop shop worth stopping the night train for.

    By Rick Jordan

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE BAR AT THE DORCHESTER

    An unpretentious hideaway in one of London’s most iconic hotels

    Some years ago, I became intrigued by a story told by Pliny the Elder concerning a wager Cleopatra made with Mark Antony that she could blow 10-million sesterces on one dinner. Apparently 10-million sesterces is worth about £400,000 in today’s money. She won the bet when she removed one of the pearl earrings she was wearing and dropped it into a goblet of wine (or vinegar). Pearls, in those days, were valued more highly than any other type of jewellery. The pearl dissolved; Cleopatra necked the contents; an astonished Antony conceded defeat.

    I wondered whether this sort of stunt was really possible and started doing a bit of research. To cut a long story short: it is. Coleman Douglas Pearls, a specialist jeweller, supplied a pearl which they crushed into powder at my request. Giuliano Morandin, manager of The Bar at The Dorchester, supplied a cocktail into which I stirred the powder.

    The result was a waste of a pearl and a Gimlet. But that little experiment provided a powerful reminder not only of the way in which anecdotes like Pliny’s are an essential part of what makes jewels magical, but also of the way in which guys like Giuliano are an essential part of what makes the best cocktail bars magical. The unflappable brio, the inexhaustible curiosity, the willingness to go the extra mile to create a memorable drink.

    DRINKS

    With its oddly timeless, curvy design – it could have been built yesterday or in 1968 – The Bar at The Dorchester is one of the most welcoming and least pompous of London’s great hotel watering holes. The attitude towards cocktails is much the same. Giuliano is not interested in showing off. He likes to chat and wants you to have a good time. If your idea of having a good time is to rediscover classic cocktails as prepared by a sorcerer, well, so much the better. That can be arranged. Nobody makes a better Martinez – one of the greatest-ever cocktails (Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Boker’s Bitters), long out of fashion and neglected in favour of the Martini and the Manhattan that derived from it – than Giuliano. It is also typical of the sorcerer that he gives so much credit to his apprentices. There is an entire section of the menu dedicated to tipples invented by members of his team. Molto simpatico.

    FOOD

    You could, if you prefer, view this not as one of the best bars in town that also happens to serve excellent Italian food, but as one of the best Italian restaurants in town that also happens to serve excellent drinks. The frutti di mare in particular is superb: lobster salad with avocado; grilled king prawns with fennel and radicchio salad.

    VERDICT

    A ray of Mediterranean sunshine on Park Lane, at any time of the day or night. By Steve King

  • The best bars in London right now

    Seymour’s Parlour at The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone

    The eclectic West London stalwart shows off a brand-new menu


    If you don’t have an eccentric uncle with a penchant for experimenting with unusual ingredients from far-flung places who you can visit in his very grand home, then pretend you do at The Zetter Townhouse in Marylebone. The hotel calls him Wicked Uncle Seymour, a fictional character created to set the tone at its Georgian townhouse on Seymour Street. The space is darkly opulent and instantly cosy; with mellow jazz playing in the background it feels almost like you’re in another era. Ask any of the mixologists about their favourite concoctions and they will happily guide you through the elaborate menu, explaining why toasted rice milk gives a creaminess without tasting remotely like milk or changing the drink’s clarity. Some are laid-back and chatty, others more formal and softly spoken but where the bar staff differ in demeanour they are alike in a shared passion for cocktail making. So get ready to snuggle down for the evening.

    DRINKS

    ‘Seymour’s travels were a debauched affair and after months of partying hard he found himself searching for a mystical answer to his ailments,’ the menu reads. The result is a collection of potions and punches that was (in real life) imagined by Matt Whiley and Rich Woods, two of London’s most formidable bartenders and founders of Scout in Hackney, who have collaborated with The Zetter Townhouse to design two new drinks menus for their Marylebone and Clerkenwell outposts. As usual, the duo are experimental in their choice of ingredients, including Palo Santo infusion, tonka bean and quince-tea kombucha, while keeping presentation at the heart of their creations. The Healing Punch is made with fig-leaf Scotch whisky, Palo Santo and toasted rice milk, served with a round ice cube at its centre, a leaf to add drama and a flower for good measure. The Aphrodisiac Spritz, mixed with sandalwood vodka, pisco, raspberry brandy, clarified lemon and Champagne, plays tricks on the eyes – it looks almost exactly like water but packs an intense punch.

    BAR SNACKS

    Don’t come hungry, unless you plan on ordering afternoon tea. Truffle and pecorino mixed nuts, smoky chilli mix, and garlic, lemon and rosemary Giarraffa olives make for perfect bar snacks, but the nibbles and small plates are tiny.

    VERDICT

    Cosy, comforting and one of the most romantic bars in London. The only trouble will be leaving, which – since The Zetter Townhouse is a hotel – could be no trouble at all. By Emma Russell

    Address: The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone, 28-30 Seymour Street, London W1H 7JB


    Telephone: +44 20 7324 4544


    Website: thezettertownhouse.com

    THE FOLLOWING BARS IN LONDON ARE TEMPORARILY CLOSED

  • Oriole, Smithfield

    Underground tiki-inspired bar in Smithfield

    Behind the scenes

    Low-lit speakeasy Nightjar has been a favourite of Condé Nast Traveller since it opened in Old Street five years ago. Now Nightjar’s bar team has flown the nest, circumnavigated the globe through ingredients such as mezcal and cherry-blossom gin, and returned with Oriole, a new sister bar in Smithfield. Chinese fans, tribal masks and conch shells fill this secret little spot in the middle of the market, much like trinkets fill any globetrotter’s home.

    Drink

    The souvenir-worthy menu is arranged geographically, and reads like a passport of sorts, with stickers of the drinks in place of stamps. Hit up the New World for butter-smooth rum in Goldeneye, inspired by Ian Fleming’s house of the same name in Jamaica. Over in the Old World, the Barbie-pink Everglade — rye whisky, gentian wine, absinthe, grapefruit — is anything but sweet. Glassware is as exotic as the spirits: the whisky-based Ryoan-Ji, listed under The Orient, is served in a china egg.

    Bar snacks

    Truffle-laced croquettes are a comforting call home, whereas prawn and avocado maki and glazed pork belly sing of Asia.

    Highlight

    The fantasy that someone could get up and start dancing to the jazz band any moment, sloshing a twisted Margarita around with the flick of a hip. Guests must, however, remain seated.

    By Hazel Lubbock

    Address: Oriole, East Poultry Avenue, Smithfield, London EC1


    Telephone: 020 3544 2545


    Website: oriolebar.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Bloom Bar, Kensington

    A new neighbourhood bar/dancefloor to pile into if the pub doesn’t quite cut it

    At the end of High Street Kensington is a subterranean pit of legend – previously Mahiki, then Bodo’s Schloss. Whatever the incarnation, it’s long been the late-night dive for spent dinner parties, Chelsea revellers and even the odd sighting of an elusive prince. But things have changed. Bloom marks a departure from the golden (and somewhat sticky) age of clubbing, but that’s not to say that a good old boogie has fallen out of fashion. The aesthetic is remarkably familiar: green metro tiles matching plush deep-green banquettes and bar chairs, with palm-covered wallpaper and gold-leafed lamps suspended over marble tables. Copper cocktail shakers pose like woke amulets along the bar and there are large ornamental distillery tanks at the entrance. This may be a masterclass in millennial interiors but it’s a welcome change – more members’ club than night club, where tapas and cocktails are paired with deep velvet and disco. And the VIP snobbery has been banished: no dress codes to navigate or guest lists to hustle on to.

    THE DRINK

    A simple yet effective cocktail menu sings to those looking to take the edge off a hard week, but with an emphasis on ingredients (Villa Ascenti gin, honey over sugar). Tapping into London’s social zeitgeists, the non-alcoholic Seedlip cocktail menu doesn’t lack for choice: you could go for the Nogroni, or Martino, perhaps, or the Bloom Cup with rhubarb tea and ginger ale. The wine list includes Whispering Angel rosé, as well as reasonably priced house wines and a prosecco frizzante. And while a £290 Dom Perignon bottle may recall a bygone VIP directive, the Spumante sparkling rosé and a schooner of Meantime Brewing’s Bloom London Lager sets a pared-down tone as the dancefloor warms up next door.

    THE FOOD

    Come before 10pm for the Early Doors menu, which is big on polished comfort food (crispy squid, Korean fried chicken, mac ’n’ fromage). The vegan katsu curry with sticky rice is particularly tasty and the portion sizes are a generous take on the small plate. Those missing the 10pm deadline are hardly punished, since the all-night menu is served until close, around 3am. There’s arancini three ways, plus proper bacon baps with dry-cured Suffolk streaky bacon. The affogato (creamy vanilla ice cream with a punchy espresso shot) will help oil the table-to-dance floor transition.


    VERDICT

    Bloom hits a sweet spot, free from the pretentious trappings of a lot of London’s VIP nightlife. By Rosalyn Wikeley

    Address: Bloom Bar, 2a Kensington High Street, London W8 4PT


    Telephone: +44 20 8059 8945


    Website: bloomkensington.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Furanxo, Dalston

    Natural wine and tapas at a bona fide Andalusian bar and deli

    Furanxo is one of the most idiosyncratic (and smallest) spots in London where Spaniards come to drink wine and chat, just like at the abacerías back home. Roughly translated from an Arabic word for the ‘place of supplies’, it is used to describe shops selling everything from charcuterie and cheese to herbs, spices and tinned goods – many of which doubled up as bars, just like this Dalston rendition. Opened in 2016, Furanxo is the bricks-and-mortar version of Santos and Santos, owner Manuel de los Santos’s small stall on Broadway Market which sells produce imported from independent Spanish farmers and natural wine from emerging regions. With marble shop counters that double as bar tops, it is an ever-so-relaxed neighbourhood hangout which has stayed open for longer and closed later as east London locals catch on. Join them on stools under the ibérico ham hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by the smell of artisanal cheese, bottles of natural wines and brightly coloured tins that light up the walls.

    THE DRINK

    There’s nothing deli-like about the way Furanxo’s drinks are served: in decadent, spotlessly polished wine glasses and short cups with twists of orange. A black chalkboard lists the wines of the day, a homemade zero-sulphites vermút here, a Spanish sherry there and maybe something sparkling. The whole point of Furanxo is to celebrate small-scale independent producers and winegrowers from offbeat regions in Spain and Portugal. As such, they’ve created an esoteric menu that showcases wines from the likes of family-run Celler Finca Parera – a fourth generation farm since 1892 turned biodynamic winemakers – and Bodega Vinificate in Cádiz, which was founded by two young brothers passionate about their land, terroir and local grapes.

    THE FOOD

    There’s no kitchen at Furanxo but that’s not stopping De los Santos from serving truly tasty tapas: pan con tomate on crusty bread and a charcuterie board of fine ibéerico ham and cheese, including one made with Grazalema ewe’s milk and a crumbly Castrocastillo, aged for 90 days in 10-metre-deep caves in Leon. Sometimes there’ll be a tortilla with piquillo peppers on offer, but always ask for the plate of tinned sardines and artichokes, olives, mussels and pickles – the soft, salty explosions beam you back to summers in Spain.


    VERDICT

    For an authentic Andalusian moment, squeeze into this small space and pull up a stool underneath a swaying ham. By Emma Russell

    Address: Furanxo, 85 Dalston Lane, London E8 2NG


    Telephone: +44 20 7686 8027


    Website: furanxo.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Locket’s, St James’s

    An ornamental bar and café that’s glossed up its brutalist home

    For 52 years, writers and editors at The Economist looked out from their brutalist tower in St James’s onto the sprawl of London while handing out shrewd judgements on world affairs. Business, science and finance reporters discussed stories over cups of tea on the 12th floor, news reporters were sent to cover oil in Africa, wars in the Middle East and No10 from the 13th, while features for the 1843 magazine were dreamt up a floor above. Designed by Peter and Alison Smithson – who founded the New Brutalism of the 1960s, ‘an ethic, not an aesthetic,’ they said – The Economist Tower became a modernist landmark in the heart of historic Piccadilly. Its days as a newsroom are long gone, and some might say its egalitarian ways too, but functionality and community is still being fostered in Smithson Plaza, as it’s now known. There’s art, office spaces, homes, and now the newly opened Locket’s bar too – a European-inspired café and wine bar from the team behind Wilton’s, one of London’s oldest restaurants. The interiors are a far cry from the rough roach exterior – stone peppered with holes left where shells dissolved in it – with marble counters, plenty of copper, a bold colour scheme and warm atmospheric lighting. A decadent wine list, and almost entirely suited clientele, have also upped the ante.

    THE DRINK

    Wine bars are cool again, with establishments such as The Laughing Heart in Hackney and Weino Bib in Dalston democratising wine for the masses. Locket’s is not like those places, rather leaning in to some of the pretension and snobbery found in its neighbouring institutions. But if you know your wines, its extensive list is definitely the big draw. It showcases the best of both the Old and New Worlds, including carefully selected small producers growing everywhere from the Czech Republic to China. An unusual dry vinho verde from Portugal had a slight spritz and was light and fresh, while full-bodied reds from Bordeaux hit the spot. By day, Locket’s serves up tea and coffee and freshly made smoothies and juices, best enjoyed with a pain au chocolat or smoked salmon and crème fraîche in a brioche roll.

    THE FOOD

    The burrata and creamy mushroom polenta are both delicious, and you can’t go wrong with cheese and crackers if you’re hungry – but miss the food here otherwise, remember you’re here for the wine.


    VERDICT

    A place to think about times long gone and to discuss politics and society as the writers at The Economist once did, over a glass or two of wine. By Emma Russell

    Address: Locket’s, Smithson Plaza, 25 St James’s Street, St James’s, London SW1A 1HA


    Telephone: +44 20 3005 3333


    Website: locketslondon.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Gold Step, Shoreditch

    An interactive journey through Mexico’s tequila and mezcal flavours in an East End legend

    If there’s one bar that defined the Shoreditch scene in those early days of the millennium, it’s Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes – the name taken from the two schmutter-industry shops that once resided here, signs still intact – just under the railway bridge on Kingsland Road. Many nights began here; many more ended in a tangle of memories left on the dancefloor. It was founded by Teresa Skrgatic and Nick Letchford in 2002, who collaborated with many of the area’s young artists, DJs and publishers, forming a collective that would go on to create the Hand of Glory pub in Hackney Downs and The Victoria in Dalston. As Nick says, ‘It has a DIY ethos that is still, to this day, completely hands on; it’s a business run by makers, for makers.’ At the grand age of 18, it’s survived with its reputation intact and has just turned its rough-edged basement space into a bar celebrating agave-based spirits in all their shapes and forms. There are vintage Mexican soap operas and adverts on TV screens, a jumble of brightly painted benches and chairs, unreconstructed graffiti in the loos, no straw donkeys and absolutely no menu.

    DRINK

    The idea here is to explore the various types of tequila and mezcal, with a series of four Breaking Bad-style pipettes and a tableside explanation of each one. Montmartre-born bartender Tom – all tatts and rockabilly-style hair oil – encourages you to put a drop of each on your palm and rub it, releasing the flavour profile. Tequilas have notes of vanilla and wood; mezcal, that wonderfully smoky, almost peaty fragrance. He’ll then ask for your cocktail preferences – sweet or sour, floral or savoury – before disappearing to create something unique and nameless. He’s keen to be experimental, rather than simply making a Negroni with tequila rather than gin. Our drinks were genuinely surprising, with whiffs of chilli, bergamot and elderflower, and punchy, whisky-like hits of alcohol – although low-ABV stirs are possible. Walk-ins are welcome, but better to book a table ahead; Tom says the bar is proving popular as an experiential night-out for first dates.

    FOOD

    Sadly no tacos, but you can make like 2002 and head to the original Vietnamese restaurants up the road.


    The best bars in London right now

    VERDICT

    A slow-drinking concept that’s rare in this speed-drinking neighbourhood. Mezcal and tequila have been talked up a lot in recent years as the ‘new gin’, and are finally having their moment in the sun. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Gold Step, 32-36 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DA


    Telephone: +44 20 7683 0912


    Website: jaguarshoes.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    BUBBLEDOGS, FITZROVIA

    High-low hotdog meets Champagne phenomenon reopens after slick update

    There may be a point in the future where you’ll tell your grandchildren how once upon a time there used to be white tablecloths on dining tables, and meals were divided into starters, mains and puddings. Then you’d tell them about the time everything changed when a restaurant opened where people queued to eat hot dogs with Champagne. This was 2013, and Bubbledogs was the love-child of chef James Knappet and former Noma front-of-houser Sandia Chang, who sourced single-estate Champagne and made their own pimped-up hot dogs. Coney Island meets Reims on Charlotte Street. Instant high-low success, in a way that, say, caviar and stout or salmon en croute with Irn Bru never could be. Knappett then unveiled his 20-seater Kitchen Table counter, behind a curtain off the main space – a little like the Wizard in Oz – and won two Michelin stars for wildly inventive dishes such as fried chicken skin and mascarpone. Bubbledogs reopened in May 2019 after splurging on new interiors that pop a B&B Italia finesse, with neon squiggles and sheeny high tables with sunken ice-filled slots for bottles to scrunch into.

    DRINKS

    The team have really ramped up the Grower Champagnes, those single-estate wines from family producers that aren’t household names but offer a much more varied flavour profile than the obvious labels. It’s a chance to sit down and learn about Champagne – and the characters and passion behind each vintage – in an informal setting. A crisp Dhodnt-Grellet, for example, or Bubbledogs’ own Collin-Guillaume rosé. Full bottles can be had for around the £50 mark, which isn’t too much of a mark-up – and look up at the Bubble Shop shelf for something to take away (German-born restaurant manager Max Tschudi shakes his head and reckons that some are far too under-priced for their rarity). There are also still wines from the Champagne region – fruit-packed Pinots and Chardonnays – and a short cocktail list, though Champagne cocktails are a no-no.

    BAR SNACKS

    The dogs have plenty of bite – light, almost dainty, but packing flavour. We wolfed down the French Connection (dressed with shavings of foie gras, dotted with pearls of sherry-vinegar jelly) and the Eastern Odyssey (with tart pickled peppers and onions). New on the menu are the American-style tater tots, deep-fried grated potato, like little compact hunks of rosti. For pudding there’s popcorn ice cream, or a plate of Langre – a French cheese washed with Champagne, that you’re encourage to wash a little more with a splash from your glass – with big home-made crackers. This ain’t a place to hold back.

    VERDICT

    Still a place that knows how to have fun – but also a place to learn some serious know-how about Champagne terroir. Many global visitors to London rightly have this on their ice-bucket list. By Rick Jordan

    Address: Bubbledogs, 70 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4QG


    Telephone: +44 20 7637 7770


    Website: bubbledogs.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Bar Three, Spitalfields

    London’s least pretentious cocktail maestros do it again


    Dalston’s Three Sheets, which opened in 2016, became a normcore bar sensation: a simple menu, a bare little space and no real concept to speak of. But with its smooth, worryingly drinkable creations, friendly service and lack of pretension, the cocktail world loved it too. It strolled onto the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2018, and earlier this year, was named bar of the year at the CLASS magazine awards, voted by industry types who know about things such as mouth-feel. So what did Max and Noel Venning – the two drily unfussed Mancunian brothers behind Three Sheets – do next? The answer is Bar Three, in a basement under Spitalfields brasserie Blixen, which is… largely the same, with just a few differences. It’s darker and a bit more done-up than Three Sheets, and the crowd is more post-work/second-date than buzzy-local – but the menu still revolves around nine cocktails, here divided helpfully into ‘Light’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Full’. The Vennings have done other things, too – written a book of pre-made cocktails, created a drinks menu for Park Lane fire-grill restaurant Gridiron, and launched Finsbury Park bar-bistro Top Cuvée with Harwood Arms alum Dan Miller – but Bar Three is the only real successor to Three Sheets.

    DRINKS

    Some of the drinks at Bar Three have only the slightest changes from those at its sister bar, such as the orange-infused French 75 – an eccentric, bottle-poured twist on the Kir Royal – which is flavoured here with sweet-tart verjus (the pressed juice of unripened grapes) rather than lemon and moscato. Max learned his skills under Tony Conigliaro at Islington pioneer 69 Colebrooke Row, and he took Conigliaro’s techniques for smooth cocktails, if not his haute-concept showmanship. The short Apple + Plum cocktail is so velvety because the Fanny Fougerat cognac was washed through acidulated butter (you only get these nerdy details if you ask). The result is a sweet-sour, slightly smoky showstopper that’s somehow just right. The Whiskey + Milk, with cedarwood and milk-washed Earl Grey, is another highlight – like a smooth, slightly nutty, happily lingering Old Fashioned. None of the cocktails really taste like their core alcoholic constituent, so forget any preference for rum, tequila, bourbon or whatever. In fact, just work through the whole menu and be done with it. Drinks come fast and, at £9.50, are great value.

    BAR SNACKS

    Excellent smoked almonds, olives and hand-cut chips from upstairs at Blixen – but that’s not why you’re here.

    VERDICT

    A civilised, unfussy post-work drink spot or a delicious precursor to dinner nearby.

    Address: Bar Three, 65a Brushfield St, Spitalfields, London E1


    Telephone: +44 20 7101 0093


    Website: bar-three.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Magritte Bar at The Beaumont, Mayfair

    Sophisticated surrealism in the recently revamped Art Deco space

    The Beaumont hotel changed hands last year, and the first sign of the new reign is the transformation of The American Bar into The Magritte Bar. The spirit of fictional character James Beaumont remains (dreamt up by the hotel’s founder, ‘Jimmy’ was imagined as a former banker who traded Prohibition-era Manhattan for a new life as a hotelier in Mayfair). But his New York accent has softened, and his time in European society has had an influence. Row after row of silver-screen icons used to gaze down at drinkers from their black-and-white portraits in The American Bar but they have been carefully packed away now, apart from a few stragglers hanging out by the cloakroom. In their place hang more playful antique Charlie Chaplin posters, and, naturally, a special oil reproduction of Le Maître d’École by René Magritte. The Surrealist artist’s first exhibition is thought to have taken place in a bar in Brussels, so the homage seems fitting here.

    On Friday nights, a live saxophonist flirts with guests in between tunes, but even so the place begins to empty out by 10pm, which makes it feel rather like you’re a hotel guest (and you’re treated just as well), rather than a barfly. Last time I was here, my own guest was 20 minutes late – and I was thrilled. I was well looked after – but not fussed over – by the immaculately tailored, white-jacketed waiters; the bustle of the Beaumont continued around me, and the extra time to decompress in such comfort was a delight. It’s the sort of place that invites daydreams about eras when you might have had your cigarette lit by a Don Draper lookalike. Or, indeed, a Jimmy B.

    DRINKS

    The building itself was once a four-storey car park, but we wouldn’t recommend operating any heavy machinery after a cocktail at the Magritte. As it always has, the bar specialises in the classics, and the sours in particular are excellent – the Clover Club (named after a gentleman’s club in Philadelphia) is pleasantly less macho than expected with zingy raspberry and lime balanced with a delicate foamy egg white, and while the Reposado Sour might translates as ‘restful’, it pairs well with the sound of the sax to set you up for an evening that is anything but.

    SNACKS

    No need for decision fatigue, the menu is short – order one of everything to keep the tequila in check. The deconstructed caviar blinis are suitably indulgent for the setting, and no one will judge you for ordering them. The warm, honey-soaked cornbread with goat’s cheese truly melts on the tongue, but that’s your lot if you’re vegetarian – the crudités don’t really stand up next to the crab, and £8 for chopped carrots and celery felt like a bad joke on Jimmy’s part.

    VERDICT

    A smooth operator in one of London’s loveliest neighbourhoods. By Anna Prendergast

    Address: The Magritte Bar at The Beaumont, 8 Balderton Street, Brown Hart Gardens, London W1K 6TF


    Telephone: +44 20 7499 1001


    Website: thebeaumont.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    PUNCH ROOM AT THE LONDON EDITION

    Up-and-coming bands and punch in one of London’s smartest hotels

    BEHIND THE SCENES

    Since it opened in 2013, this Ian Schrager-designed hotel has rarely been out of the celebrity gossip pages. But while you may bump into Lily Allen or Harry Styles in the restaurant, in the speakeasy-style bar at the back you’re more likely to see a future Mercury Prize winner, performing in front of a glass-cased taxidermy duck to a select few during one of the occasional Raw Punch music sessions – or those same stars, whenever they’re after a more intimate drinks date.


    DRINK

    A complimentary sherry glass of the punch of the day will help you peruse the menu. The punches here aren’t the student-party type made in a bucket with a few grapes floating on top, but fragrant, artfully constructed cocktails made with some surprising ingredients – from green tea and milk to mezcal (in the Closer to God punch). The sharing ones arrive in a nice spouting-fish jug. The bar team – managed with disarming, down-to-earth charm by Andy Shannon, formerly of Callooh Callay and led by Eric van Oers – dusted off recipes using old-school spirits such as genever and arrak, which powered those classic, 18th-century punches, initially to create The Five, a 30-strong menu that played with five essential punch ingredients. Now it has a sequel: The Five: Volume II, housed in a hard-backed book, which moves through the history of punch by way of its beautifully surreal illustrations, lively prose written by Madeleine Grace Barry (also the hotel’s Nightlife Supervisor – what a title), and more adventurous ingredients, such as milk wash, carrot syrup and fennel citric acid.


    BAR SNACKS

    You can mix and match small starter-sized plates of truffle and gruyère croquettes, smoked salmon rillettes with Parmesan, spicy prawn sliders and Korean fried-chicken wings and Jenga-sized triple-cooked chips. The star is the veggie Mini Berners Tavern mac and cheese – or you can plump for the braised-beef version instead.

    HIGHLIGHT

    The cocktails, the service, the vibe. Rather than select one aspect of this supremely slick operation, we’ll simply highlight that the Punch Room is perhaps the coolest hotel bar in the West End.

    By Rick Jordan (2018 update by Becky Lucas)

    Address: Punch Room at The London Edition, 10 Berners Street, London W1


    Telephone: +44 20 7908 7949


    Website: editionhotels.com

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  • The best bars in London right now

    ANTHRACITE, KING’S CROSS

    A Martini lounge made for pre-dinner liveners

    As Herb Caen so delicately put it: ‘Martinis are like breasts – one isn’t enough and three is too many.’ Which is worth bearing in mind when you’re confronted by a menu that has 29 of them on it, as you are at Anthracite, the shiny new bar in the Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross. This single-minded dedication to hard liquor is a welcome addition to a neighbourhood dominated by restaurants: nearby newcomers Hicce and the Coal Office are already vying for top spot with old-timers Caravan and Grainger & Co. And as a space dedicated to drinking, it hits all the rights notes: low-lighting, grown-up décor in a charcoal and gunmetal palette, and all kinds of nooks and crannies for intimate tête-a-têtes.

    DRINKS

    The charming head barman Balazs Nagy has built the list around Martinis with all the regulars present and correct: the Breakfast, the Vesper, the Espresso. And purists will be purring at the abundant choice of high-class gins and vodkas. Most exciting, though, are his two unorthodox creations: the Offbeat Martini, a bitter, vermouth-led delight; and the star of the show, the Coastal Martini, with samphire-infused gin, seaweed and chilli to give it a salty, savoury kick. Non-Martini drinkers aren’t forgotten about either, with 20 wines by the glass, a super-strong spirit shelf and short but punchy list of Nagy’s own creations, the highlight of which is the Anticuado, an Old-Fashioned-inspired blast of smoky mezcal, agave and mole bitters.

    FOOD

    Caviar takes centre stage (go for the sustainably farmed Mottra Osetra from Latvia), but there are also neat little charcuterie and cheese lists. Of the four hot snacks, the standout is a heap of courgette fries layered up with Parmesan and truffle oil.

    VERDICT

    In among King’s Cross’s plate-glass transparency, there is something pleasingly behind-closed-doors about this welcome new pre-dinner drinking den.


    By David Annand

    Address: Anthracite Lounge, St Pancras Station, London N1C 4TB


    Telephone: +44 20 3388 0810


    Website: anthracitelounge.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Parrot, Aldwych

    A star-studded cocktail hotspot from actor Idris Elba

    The Parrot’s co-founder, Lee Caufield, used to be a Hollywood assistant. So when he decided he wanted to open a bar, it was only natural for him to turn to pal Idris Elba for a helping hand. And it was a savvy move. Elba’s super-cool reputation has rubbed off on the place. It’s dark and sleek and fizzes with anticipation from the moment you walk in the door. The bar feels more intimate than its size might suggest, thanks to several cosy nooks and a generous stage, which the house band plays on every night. Caufield’s contacts book comes in handy here, too: a string of established and up-and-coming acts will be performing intimate unannounced shows from time-to-time. Details are being kept under wraps but we heard mention of George Ezra, and Elba himself is expected to showcase his own DJ set soon. And why The Parrot? Caufield just liked the name. But the theme is taken seriously – from the tasteful tropical-style interiors (hand-painted palm wallpaper, exotic plants spilling out of corners) to the list of 10 signature cocktails that are named after different birds.

    DRINKS

    Head bartender Daniele Panzanaro is clearly passionate about the drinks he creates and the ingredients that go into them. Mixers such as lemon tonic and vanilla syrup are all homemade to ensure they’re fresh and perfectly balanced to bring out the best in his cocktails. He’s a bit of a flavour alchemist. On our visit, he impressed us with a demonstration on how a barely detectable sprinkle of Indonesian salt could intensify the flavour of a passion fruit tenfold. There’s a sense of humour to the drinks, too. They arrive in a delightfully bizarre variety of vessels – from a Russian doll to a glass blowfish and a monkey’s head. Our favourites were the sweet but refreshing Umbrella Cockatoo – a celebration of chamomile and honey (which its namesake likes to eat) with Sicilian lemon tonic – and the Dusky Parrot, a pleasingly smoky twist on a Negroni.

    FOOD

    The dishes here are light and elegant and play on the tropical theme. So, there’s a bowl of poached lobster served with zingy mango and lime, while chicken comes with chilli, plantain and crunchy peanuts. It all feels a bit serious alongside the quirky, boozy cocktails though – you may find yourself craving something a little less refined and a little naughtier.

    VERDICT

    Thanks to Elba’s involvement and a guest list that already includes the likes of Orlando Bloom and Liam Payne, this is London’s latest cocktail hotspot. And it lives up to all the hype. Head here now for a truly fun night out – while it’s still the place everyone’s talking about. By Olivia Holborow

    Address: The Parrot, The Waldorf Hilton, Aldwych, London WC2B 4DD


    Website: theparrotldn.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    Spiritland, King’s Cross

    A super-cool café and bar driving London’s music scene forwards

    After years of ambitious regeneration, King’s Cross, and specifically Coal Drops Yard, is London’s buzziest creative hub – work on Google’s HQ is in full swing, and Facebook are said to be eyeing up a nearby plot too. Spiritland captures the zeitgeist perfectly: part of a new breed of ‘listening cafés’ (a concept imported from Japan’s jazz kissatens – tea-rooms boasting state-of-the-art audio equipment), it’s raising the bar for London’s most committed music fans. The idea is to put music on a pedestal — to provide a comfortable space for people to listen to top-quality music, without needing to step foot into a sticky-floored super-club. By day, it’s a casual café, workspace and recording studio; by night a bar, restaurant and venue for label launches and DJ residencies. You can even take a piece of Spiritland home — vinyl, headphones and audio equipment lining the back of the bar are all up for sale. Each night, a different DJ takes to the decks of its world-class sound system and towering speakers (the whole set-up clocks in at just under half a million pounds), while guests sink into wonderfully retro green felt chairs to enjoy what the bar’s founders describe as a ‘deep listening experience’. And although things do get darker and louder at night, this is categorically not a club: there’s no dancefloor, and thanks to the table service policy, there’s no jostling for space at the bar either.

    DRINKS

    Once the daytime flat white and cold-pressed green juice orders subside, a smart after-work clientele sip on creative cocktails like the Red Clay — a long drink of spicy mezcal muddled with cassis, ginger and lime, or the sticky-sweet Man Child made with vodka, Chianti, cherry, vanilla and lemon. There’s a nod to Spiritland’s Japanese heritage with a sizeable sake list, and hipsters are kept happy with craft beers sourced everywhere from Huddersfield to Byron Bay. The wine list is heavily European-focussed, with wines from Slovenia, Hungary and England included – and glasses start at a very affordable £4.50.


    FOOD

    By day, freelancers and tech bods are fuelled by millennial-friendly avocado and sourdough, freekeh salads and salt beef miso mustard sandwiches. In the evenings, drinkers graze on small plates of creamy burrata with sorrel and truffle honey, anchovies with lemony butter beans and plates of Italian meats and cheeses served with warm flatbread. For pudding, there’s a deliciously dense chocolate brownie or strawberries with a huge dollop of clotted cream and black pepper syrup.


    VERDICT

    This may be a happy-making place for music lovers, but you don’t have to be a die-hard audiophile to enjoy it. Come for the food, the drink and the incredibly laid-back, unpretentious vibe; but with one of the world’s best sound systems providing the backing track, you may well discover a newfound appreciation for music.


    By Teddy Wolstenholme

    Address: Spiritland, 9-10 Stable Street, King’s Cross, London N1C 4AB


    Phone: +44 20 3319 0050


    Website: spiritland.com

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  • The best bars in London right now

    SOCIAL 24, LIVERPOOL STREET

    Thrilling high-rise cocktails for a wide-angle London overview

    The masterly French storyteller and occasional hedonist Guy de Maupassant hated the Eiffel Tower when it was built, but he insisted on going there every day for lunch. His reasoning was that once inside the Eiffel’s restaurant, it was one of the few places where he could sit and not actually see the Tour. In comparison to the Paris landmark, the Tower 42 skyscraper, built in 1980, is a galumphing dullard, but once inside Social 24 bar – 24 storeys up, naturally – you can’t see it and instead can gaze out over a filmic London] landscape, sun glinting off steel and glass, mackerel skies overhead, rather like those giddying opening credits of Miami Vice.

    This is Jason Atherton’s lofty City perch – all muted colours and shiny Art Deco accents, clubby leather seating gathered expectantly around the viewing windows – which was re-named earlier in 2018 and relaunched as a late-night hangout with resident DJ and a new drinks list. Sunset in London tails off to 6.40pm by the end of September, so plan your drinks here accordingly – although, of course, the moody, after-dark skyline can be even more watchable.


    DRINKS

    A while ago, the bar developed an augmented reality menu with hi-tech coasters, which was overly fiddly. The current list is far more simple, each creation inspired by one of the buildings in your sightline. So you could play your own game of spotting and naming the building then drinking the cocktail, in which case you’ll be on the floor by the end of the evening. If you want to maintain your composure, though, order just a couple: an HMS Belfast, perhaps, which jigs together a masculine mix of Slane whiskey, stout, poitin, banana and Guinness foam (almost a meal in a glass in itself), the Tate Modern (an artfully fruity take on the Pisco Sour, with orange falernum and St Germain), or the Monument, a fire-singed tequila concoction made with charcoal, jalapenos and roasted-pineapple cordial.


    BAR SNACKS

    Snacky, quickly-demolished bits include tasty goat’s cheese churros, to be dipped in truffle honey, and smoked-pork empanadas; larger plates are City-smart versions of gastropub classics, such as roast-chicken salad and rib-eye with duck-fat chips. The main restaurant, City Social, has a Michelin star, so consider this Michelin-star bar food (available until 10.30pm) – and you don’t need to book ahead for it either. There’s a special menu during London Fashion Week, including on-trend curried cauliflower with puréed aubergine and leeks.

    VERDICT

    Liverpool Street is best appreciated from way above pavement level – this is one of the best vantage points from which to start an evening out east and keep tabs on London’s latest architectural follies. And the cocktails are impeccably mixed.


    By Rick Jordan

    Address: City 24, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London EC2N 1HQ


    Telephone: +44 20 7877 7703


    Website: citysociallondon.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Library Bar at The Ned

    A tiny new bar in the City with a Martini twist

    The Ned is one of those London hotspots you feel you should know about, even if you’ve never been. It crashed onto the capital’s hotel scene in 2017, and just about everyone who visits agrees that it’s a game-changer, with nine restaurants, more bars than you could hope to visit in a long weekend (16) and 252 bedrooms, all grand in their Edwardian pomp and glamour. Built in the 1920s under the helm of Sir Edwin Lutyens, the hotel lobby (once the banking hall of Midland Bank HQ) is a vast space where waiters twirl and dodge around the chaos to a soundtrack of live jazz. To find the latest addition, The Library Bar, you have to know that it’s there in the first place. Squirrelled away in the right-hand corner of the lobby, this space is pocket-sized and intimate, yet with all the buzz carrying through from next door. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases are packed with old copies of all the classics, towering over plump armchairs and low-slung sofas. We visited on a Tuesday and, thankfully, we had reserved, as our table was the only free spot.

    DRINKS

    This is a Martini and Champagne bar, so, unsurprisingly, the menu features both heavily. A white-coated waiter will wheel the Martini trolley to your table to mix your drinks in front of you, expertly taking you through the ingredients and process. The Martinis, you are warned, are made differently than elsewhere: an extra 10ml of your chosen spirit (Grey Goose or Star of Bombay) is added, alongside the Library’s own vermouth blend and orange bitters. The result is a drink that hits you on the first sip, yet it’s balanced enough to make even the most inexperienced Martini drinkers happy. Off-menu, the bartenders will mix a version with any spirit you like. Speciality cocktails are a little less jelly-leg-inducing: we enjoyed the Royale Punch (Remy Martin VSOP, peach, earl grey, citrus cordial, anise and Champagne) and the highly recommended Velvet Fizz (Konik’s Tail vodka, coconut, lemongrass, lime, egg white and Champagne). Non-vintage Champagnes are served by the flute, while vintage bottles are served in coupes (this allows the bubbles to develop as the liquid is poured). If you’re feeling especially flush, there are three Martinis on the menu that come in at £100 each, made with vintage vermouth and rare spirits from the 1970s.

    BAR SNACKS

    Many of the bar snacks come from the Ned’s in-house restaurants, which means they are a cut above your standard crisps and sausage rolls. Fast finger food comes in the form of a Scotch quail’s egg with tartare sauce and Manchego and chorizo bon-bons. The pizzetta, with leek, fontina cheese and black truffle, is cooked in Cecconi’s pizza oven. If you’re ordering it, skip the Parmesan and truffle chips (there is such a thing as too much truffle) and opt instead for the courgette batons: lightly fried strips of juicy courgette doused in lemon juice and served piping hot.


    THE VERDICT

    In the high-flying context of The Ned, The Library Bar feels as if you’re in on a special secret. By Sarah James

    Address: The Library Bar at The Ned, 27 Poultry, London EC2R 8AJ


    Telephone: +44 20 3828 2000


    Website: thened.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    KNIGHT’S BAR, SIMPSON’S IN THE STRAND

    A bar on the Strand that’s cosy as well as clubby

    PG Wodehouse referred to the vast, high-ceilinged dining room at Simpson’s as ‘a restful temple of food’ in which ‘white-robed priests, wheeling their smoking trucks, move to and fro, ever ready with fresh supplies’. Knight’s Bar, which is upstairs above the restaurant, is in that case a sort of side-chapel. It’s too small and narrow to be mistaken for a temple – too cosy, too comfy, too clubby. Too full of unholy water and hellfire liquor. There might be room for 30 drinkers in the squishy leather armchairs and sofas arranged along the windows overlooking the Strand; there’s barely room for two staff behind the bar at a time, and they’d want to be on the friendliest possible terms. The Knight’s name has nothing to do with garters or the honours system – it’s a nod to Simpson’s original 19th-century incarnation as a chess club (as is the actual chess board beside the bar).


    DRINKS

    Possibly the place in the capital for an Old Tom gin or for clever seasonal riffs on classic cocktails. They’ve lately introduced an allotment menu, based on whatever local ingredients are around at the time. It might be strawberry, rhubarb, bay leaf, basil, peach, fig. It might even, heaven forbid, be cucumber, a foodstuff, in the opinion of your correspondent, beneath contempt, which should under no circumstances be brought into contact with intoxicating spirits. Except here. God only knows how, but Harry Brereton – a more modest, self-effacing startender you are unlikely to meet – has come up with an utterly brilliant, lip-smacking variation on the Sazerac. With cucumber. I stand amazed, though not quite corrected.


    BAR SNACKS

    They have an unfair advantage here: direct access to the most celebrated carving trolley ever to have rattled its way across a London dining room – which they exploit ruthlessly. The roast beef and Yorkshire pudding sandwich (in which the Yorkshire pudding serves as sliced bread) is superb. Vegetarians can simply stick with Harry’s cucumber Sazerac.


    VERDICT

    One of the most charming and unexpected bars in London. Steve King


    Address: Knight’s Bar, Simpson’s in the Strand, 100 Strand, London WC2R 0EW


    Telephone: +44 20 7420 2111


    Website: simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE BLOOMSBURY CLUB BAR, BLOOMSBURY

    Classic cocktails in a cosy, vintage-style bar

    Sometimes when you head out in London you want to know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for. In a city of secret pop-ups and immersive, off-the-wall concept joints, there’s something reassuring about those places you can rely on, bars that are consistently top-drawer without feeling the need to dress you in a silly costume and serve you drinks that look great on Instagram but lack in taste. In the heart of Bloomsbury, London’s most literary neighbourhood with a well-documented bohemian heritage, The Bloomsbury Club is exactly that fail-safe, old-world hotel bar. Part of the recently revamped Bloomsbury Hotel, downstairs from the much-photographed Dalloway Terrace, the bar’s covered courtyard, with its black-and-white tiles and twinkling fairy lights, is a tempting prospect on a summer evening. Inside, this roaring throwback to the 1920s feels totally in tune with its historic surroundings rather than gimmicky. Wood-panelled walls are masculine and smart, plump bar stools are covered in swathes of indigo velvet, and the bar itself has to be one of the most attractive in central London, stocked floor to ceiling with bottles of all description.


    DRINKS

    The cocktails, like the interiors, are classic. Start with the tart and refreshing Colonial G&T (Dingle original gin, Amaro di Angostura bitters, orange-and-tonic syrup, lime juice and egg white), or the Bloomsbury Martini (Tanqueray, plum wine, kummel, orange-and-mandarin bitters). The barrel-aged cocktails are a quirky delight: the Dark Manhattan is made with WhistlePig 10-year whiskey, Averna and Belsazar red vermouth, and is aged for 28 days. If you prefer your drinks straight-up, the list of spirits is seemingly endless, while the wine is – joyously – reasonably priced for the area.

    BAR SNACKS

    The snacks here are more of a full-blown meal than a dainty nibble, so go hungry if you plan to order food. The Dorset crab on toast with watercress and apple is wonderfully fresh, while the black pudding and truffle sausage roll is an indulgent treat. Be sure to order the crispy pork-belly bites; they are succulent and full of flavour, if a little messy to tackle.


    THE VERDICT

    A wonderful throwback to a simpler time for cocktails – old-school without being boring. By Sarah James

    Address: The Bloomsbury Club Bar, 16-22 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN


    Website: thebloomsburyclub.com


    Telephone: +44 20 7347 1222

  • The best bars in London right now

    Fitz’s, Bloomsbury

    A ritzy, glitzy hotspot with cocktails to expand your vocabulary and your palate

    Hotel bars rarely live up to the hype – or the elevated prices. But the one at the new Principal London on Russell Square is an exception. As soon as you saunter into the grand marble lobby, you know you’re set for a smart night out. The atmospheric main room serves serious Oscar Wilde-at-Soho House vibes, with impressively high ceilings, low lighting, velvet sofas, leather-panelled pillars and a central plume of ostrich feathers underneath a huge disco ball. A small stage to one side hosts occasional jazz and cabaret performers. And there’s a secret second room which feels more like a cosy members’ club, with lots of dark corners to hide away in.

    DRINKS

    Skip the wine and beer – it’s got them, of course, but they’re not even mentioned on the menu. The cocktails are the only thing to sip in such an opulent setting. But in contrast to the old-school decor, there are no classics here. Nearly all of the 16 playful signature drinks use at least one ingredient you definitely won’t have heard of before. The closest to a classic is the white Vesca Negroni, served with a comically large, pink ice cube which gradually adds a tang of strawberry sweetness as it melts. The Broken Window combines smooth 12-year Scotch with spicy Ancho Reyes, sherry, aniseedy sweet cicely and celery bitters for a crisp, sweet, piquant drink. For something lighter, try the Hive Mind: Sweetdram Escubac (like gin, but juniper-free), tequila and more sherry, mixed with tart white balsamic vinegar, soda and honey-fragrant propolis (the bartenders call it ‘bee spit’). In other cocktails you’ll taste pink- peppercorn tonic, bay-leaf syrup, toasted sesame and pimento bitters. Some intensive flavour research has gone into these drinks, but they are never over-powering. And don’t worry if you are feeling lost: affable, unpretentious and ultra-knowledgeable floral-shirted barmen are on hand to help you navigate the beautifully illustrated menu.

    BAR SNACKS

    The emphasis here is definitely on the drinks, but there are some suitably hearty bites on offer to line your stomach. Despite being billed as One Bite, the fluffy hasselback potatoes, rich bone-marrow croquettes and fresh enoki-mushroom crudités with smoky aubergine and cabbage are all pretty substantial. If you’re still hungry, move on to the Two Bite options: lemon-sole tacos, truffle pizza soufflé, scallops or the juicy house burger – one-fifth brisket, four-fifths chuck roll.


    VERDICT

    An indulgent Bloomsbury night out with cocktail combos to surprise even jaded barflies.

    By Sonya Barber

    Address: Fitz’s, The Principal London, 8 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 5BE


    Telephone: +44 20 7123 5000


    Website: phcompany.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    THE AMERICAN BAR, SAVOY HOTEL

    Somebody once asked Harry Craddock, the genius who presided over the American Bar at the Savoy throughout the 1920s and 30s, what he thought was the best way to drink a cocktail. ‘Quickly,’ said Harry. ‘While it’s laughing at you.’ How dear departed Harry’s shade must have laughed when in late 2017 the American Bar was finally named Best Bar in the World. Not that standards have slipped and it didn’t deserve it. On the contrary. It’s almost certainly deserved it every year since it opened in 1904. The Savoy is a gorgeous bundle of stylistic contradictions – high Victorian, plush Edwardian, flapper-tastic Art Deco and various points in between – that somehow manages to be more than the sum of its delicious parts. At the American Bar, which wouldn’t look out of place either on a Cunard liner or in an episode of The Jetsons, service is lively and liveried, friendly but not fawning, attentive and expert – in short, as polished, pleasing and fit for purpose as the unobtrusively beautiful glassware in which your drinks will shortly arrive.

    THE DRINKS

    The menu changes every year. The latest one takes its inspiration from the photographs by Terry O’Neill with which the walls of the bar are decorated. Great idea. Great photos. Marlene. Frank. Mick and Jerry. Paul and Ringo. Judy and Liza. Michael Caine – no, hang on, that’s Peter Sellers. It’s a clever wheeze and it means the new menu is great fun to flip through and look at, even if the connections between pictures and cocktails are, shall we say, subtle. Take the First Impression, with which the menu begins. It’s a ravishing confection of gin, yuzu wine, elderflower liqueur, champagne and – stroke of genius – jasmine oil. A Gimlet with airs and graces. Apparently this First Impression takes its cue from a photograph of a skeletal David Bowie in his mid-70s Station to Station period being held upright by a considerably shorter but evidently better nourished Elizabeth Taylor, to whom he had just been introduced. It’s impossible to say for sure but something about Bowie’s posture and expression makes it look as though he wasn’t in the mood for a cocktail at all – more likely a coke. A lot of coke. It’s quite a tender, moving image. Sniff, sniff. There are 20 drinks on the new menu and it’s probably safe to say not a dud among them, though your correspondent only managed to taste nine of them, and wouldn’t, in all honesty, recommend that you tried to outdo him, or at least not in a single sitting. This stuff isn’t for amateurs. The American Bar has always been a forward-looking place – but it’s impossible not to get squiffy here without casting a fond backwards glance. This is, after all, the birthplace of such deathless classics as the Hanky Panky and the White Lady, and possibly one of the only places left on the face of the earth where, if you’d like to disburden yourself of the £5,000 in spare change that’s weighing down your trouser pockets, you can get a Sazerac made with actual Sazerac.

    THE BAR SNACKS

    You’re at the Savoy, so a dollop of caviar seems appropriate. No, wait. You’re at the American Bar at the Savoy. So make it a burger and fries. With a dollop of caviar on the side.

    THE VERDICT

    Living history. A joy.

    By Steve King

    Address: The Savoy, 100 The Strand, London WC2R 0EZ


    Website: fairmont.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    The Nelson’s, Bethnal Green

    A revamped neighbourhood bar near Colombia Road

    Before its current incarnation, the Nelsons Head was a proper East End pub for East End geezers. Now, it’s been tarted up into something more lovely: the patriotically named The Nelson’s (after Lord Nelson’s wife Frances, whom he later cheated on) sails somewhere between local boozer and cocktail bar, with a long list of natural wines. Little vases of blooms from Columbia Road Flower Market and quirky decor (convex mirrors, ornate vintage telephones) fill the space; relics from its taproom past life remain, such as cigarette burns on the stripped-back wooden floor around the bar.

    DRINK

    The man behind Fanny Nelsons is Andy Bird, co-founder of hit cocktail bars Happiness Forgets in Hoxton and Dalston’s Original Sin. Here, the cocktail menu is a list of inventive twists on classics. Grey’s Tea (Sipsmith Summer Cup, Earl-Grey-and-salted-caramel syrup and ginger ale) is served over a phallic ice cube the length of the highball glass. What may come as more of a surprise is that beer is only served by the half- or two-thirds of a pint — meaning you can try more craft and it won’t get warm. The fruity and flowery Prosecco Colfòndo is unfiltered, giving it a cider-like cloudy finish; but if you don’t know your way round the natural-wine list, ask bar manager Marta for suggestions.

    BAR SNACKS

    Upgraded comfort food is the theme here: hearty lobster hash, panko pork-belly bites, and an umami hit of olives on toast.

    By Roxy Mirshahi

    Address: Fanny Nelsons, 32 Horatio Street, Hackney, London E2


    Telephone: +44 20 7613 4434

  • The best bars in London right now

    First Aid Box, Herne Hill

    The healthiest cocktails in South London

    This is the second bar from the guys behind The Shrub & Shutter in Brixton. With pots of medicinal plants and herbs — some of which are used in drinks — draping over the bar, First Aid Box fits right into leafy Herne Hill, a short walk from the original. A café by day, the bar serves Alchemy coffee and fancy salads until sundown when health-inspired cocktails come into play; a games room (and late licence) is opening this summer. In place of a traditional bar is a large wooden table which staff stand around mixing drinks, and white-tiled walls are lined with shelves of curious potions amassed by owners and drinks consultants Chris Edwards and Dave Tregenza.

    DRINK

    Cocktails from the Doctor’s Orders half of the menu are mixed with superfoods such as beetroot, cardamom and matcha green tea. To offset all that goodness, the Against Doctor’s Orders portion of the menu includes naughty-but-nice cocktails with seriously evocative names: Coffee and Cigarettes (Campari, picon, amaretto, orange bitters, alchemy espresso and smoke) and Smoke the Weed (Peat Monster Scotch, Cynar, Campari, dashi and seaweed) taste exactly as you would imagine. New spins on classics include a scrumptiously sour Dovetail Margarita served with a real feather on the side and an Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters.

    BAR SNACKS

    They’ve kept it super-simple with ceviche, a cheese board and steak tartare from the butcher down the road. The refreshing basil and cucumber sorbet is like a little drop of heaven — order as dessert or an indulgent way to cleanse your palate between drinks.

    By Alice Riley-Smith

    Address: 119 Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24


    Telephone: +44 20 7274 6409


    Website: firstaidbox2015.com

  • The best bars in London right now

    Machine No 3, Hackney

    Classic cocktails with a kick in Hackney

    Behind the scenes

    Siblings Lauren and Antony Johns and Frenchman Briac Le Camus, who opened Dalston’s hit neighbourhood pub The Three Compasses, are mixing up their offering with this cocktail joint on Hackney’s Well Street. (Along with The Gun and Well Street Kitchen just up the road, it’s yet another reason to visit buzzy E9.) There’s date-night-friendly low lighting, exposed butterscotch-coloured brick walls and a cool house soundtrack, with DJs playing until 1am at weekends.

    Drink

    Hirsute barman Robin Summer loves the classics (Negronis, Margaritas, Manhattans) — and knows how to make ’em mean. Kick off with a straight-up Smoky Tommy laced with mezcal and chase it with a Negroni Bianco, a paler cousin of the perennial aperitivo favourite, made with Suze instead of Campari. A board behind the bar is chalked with regularly changing specials (the Blood and Sand is suitably warming for the winter season), and there’s a neat little selection of craft beers and nicely priced organic wines.

    Bar snacks

    Big, rustic boards of charcuterie or cheese: the former with salami from Naples, Serrano ham, bread and pickles; the latter an all-British selection with generous chunks of raw Cheshire, Devon Blue, Golden Cross Ash goat’s cheese, chutney and oatcakes.

    Highlight

    Bear with us on this — it’s the loos, where there’s a cheeky nod to the bar’s former life as a launderette (no need for a pocketful of change and a box of Daz though). Also the fact that you can order food in from the smoking charcoal-grill Turkish kebab shop next door and eat it in the bar.

    By Grainne McBride

    Address: Machine No 3, 271 Well Street, Hackney, London E9


    Telephone: +44 7779 003327


    Website: facebook.com/MachineNo3

  • The best bars in London right now

    Dry Martini

    Martini’s greatest hits beside Regent’s Park

    Behind the scenes

    Spanish gin fiends have been hot-stepping to the original Dry Martini since the late 1970s, when it opened in Barcelona’s Eixample district. A Madrid bar followed, and this London sequel launched earlier in 2015, sprawling inside a Thirties Deco hotel near Regent’s Park, with chessboard flooring, a bar-top so long you could rollerskate down it, and a case of vintage shakers collected by founder Javier de las Muelas. Do bars travel well? This isn’t as boisterous as its siblings, and would benefit from having its own entrance, but it makes a wonderfully romantic mise en scène, and deserves to be better known on the city’s cocktail circuit.

    Drink

    Well, the clue’s in the title. There are 100 to choose from, from the classic Bombay Sapphire/Martini Extra-Dry combo to all sorts of sherry, celery, marmalade, tequila and absinthe variations. But also try something from the Excentric list, which allows the team to get more creative: the Moon Walk is quite wonderous, a warming blend of Glenmorangie with fig syrup, pineapple and chilli, served in Miró-esque, space-age ceramics. House-made infusions include brown-bread vodka — and manager Martin Siska has brought Slovakian becherovka to the mix.

    Bar snacks

    Go for the zingy ceviche of king scallops, fresh radish and Lola toast with anchovies (there are also sliders, but they’re a bit clunky with a Martini). A few tapas on the menu may be an idea.

    Highlight

    As a Catalonian homage to the Martini, this is as comprehensive a menu as you’ll ever get. Each one is impeccably presented on a tray, and clocked up on a digital tally counter. You even get a personalised certificate, a useful aide memoire for the next morning.

    By Rick Jordan

    Address: Dry Martini at Melia White House, Albany Street, Regent’s Park, London NW1


    Telephone: +44 20 7391 3000


    Website: drymartiniorg.com

  • NT’S, London Fields

    East London hangout for classic cocktails

    Behind the scenes

    For the past two years street-food-market favourite Night Tales (also behind Summer Tales and the just-launched Japanese-inspired pop-up Tokyo Nights) has been dutifully feeding hungry Londoners. Now the gang has set up its first, permanent bricks-and-mortar bar on the hippest side of London Fields, at Netil House.

    Drink

    Fail-safe cocktails include the bittersweet negroni and Back From the Ashes (an Espresso Martini that does what it says on the tin). For those with a more adventurous palate, try the smoky Chasing Tales (mezcal, Aperol, Maraschino liqueur shaken with a splash of fiery ginger beer and fresh lemon juice). There’s also a strong wall of spirits and the knowledgeable bartenders are more than happy to whip up an off-menu tipple.

    Bar snacks

    Cheese masters Morty & Bob are behind the grill. Their signature dish is more than just a toastie; it features a gloriously rich three-blend mixture of Montgomery cheddar, Gruyère and cheddar curd. Throw in some mushrooms and truffle and you’re in comfort-food heaven. Other finger-licking treats include crispy-fried chicken with Sriracha mayo, truffle fries with aioli plus a healthy dose of something green: a salad of shaved Brussels sprouts, kale, toasted almonds, cranberries and Parmesan.

    Highlight

    Neon signs hum, trains rumble past the second-floor window and the city lights blink in the distance. It’s a little piece of Brooklyn in our very own East London.

    By Roxy Mirshahi

    Address: NT’s, Netil House, 1 Westgate Street, London Fields, E8


    Website: ntbar.co.uk

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