Cocktails in the City came in for 2 days and swept the Hoodooist’s life into a tizzy. Working in conjunction with the upcoming London Cocktail Week and the Boutique Bar Show the day before, CitC brought several bars representing several spirit brands (present at the Boutique Bar Show) together under one roof of the St. Pancras Grand Hall.
Bars and a representing brand set up stalls where bartenders presented the brand in a cocktail of their devising to the public for judging, decided by a single yellow token handed by the drinker to their favourite bar – being there for both days, the Hoodooist had the opportunity of handing a token to two separate bars, and this review will build from the least successful of 14 bars (rated: *), up to the two winning bars (rated: *****) of his opinion. You could scroll right down to the winners, or bask the in schadenfreude of the lowest rated bars.
Bars are judged on the choice and quality of their cocktail, presentation of both the drink and the décor of their stall, and any additional factors working in their favour.
So on with the disasters, rated: *.
The Breakfast Club bar, Call Me Mr. Lucky came in with a concoction called The Rocket Man, Casa Centinela Blanco Tequila, and get this, a different recipe at the stall than what’s on the handbook. This came with, from memory, lemon juice, lemon bitters, rocket, mint leaves and the most bizarre addition of crème de cacao. Which is probably what ruined the drink, a watered down tequila is all that came through, and ended up being the only drink of the festival that was not finished and just set aside.
The Rivington Grill’s Allez Islay is far less Islay than you think. The Botanist Gin, sugar, Port Charlotte, celery bitters with a *spray* of Bruichladdich (5 times fast!) ended up with something that really could have just been made easier with a glass of gin and a stick of celery. Bitter, straining, trying too hard, a mess of a drink that should not exist for its own sake.
Rated **, make way for mediocrity.
Shaker & Company (Click HERE for their bar review!), working with D.O.M. Benedictine, presented a different drink from the handbook, a ‘misprint’. Which was a shame, since the handbook’s Orchard Fall, with cognac and apple juice would have probably worked better than the herbal Aperol/Benedictine drink presented.
The Alchemist was an odd one, good service, but ended up being more image than substance. The Loire Lady heats Chambord, Finlandia Grapefruit vodka, sweet+dry vermouth, citric acid dilution, Angostura bitters and gomme, then poured over dry ice in a conical glass, served on the rocks – was more of a spectacle than the purely raspberry drink that resulted. For a sweet tooth, this might work, but it felt imbalanced in flavour and could do without the gomme and perhaps the sweet vermouth. The ‘Mad Hatter Tea Party’ table addition seemed a bit too demanding when working with the alchemical presentation of the drink, it came off a bit desperate.
And here is one I still feel conflicted about: The Lucky Pig surprised with 3 G&T’s by Bombay Sapphire. Their Almond and Coriander G&T was an underdog drink with decent flavour, but no character. And after questionable service and the fact that was, well, a G&T, it fails to impress – an event like this should present the extent and push the reasonable limits of your bartenders’ imagination. And the presentation was depressing.
Rated ***, the recommendations:
The Edition Hotel’s Punch Room presented us with their Teddy Hook Punch using Martini Gran Lusso – which was odd since perhaps they should have represented the less commonly known Ice Most Grappa, which has been developed to be smoother, and therefore more versatile for cocktails. In this case, the Gran Lusso and Grappa met Hibiscus tea, Basil water, lemon juice and sugar syrup to make a delightfully smooth, light punch, with a silky sweetness that did not tip into sickly like the Loire Lady, thanks to the subtlety of the Hibiscus’ sweetness.
The Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar presented two drinks using Appleton Estate V/X rum. The first being the Afterlight, Appleton V/X + Appleton 12yr, Poire liqueur, cinnamon syrup and lime for a sweeter, light long drink. Not my style, but certainly successful in balance. Their second drink could deal with being shorter than it was, but was certainly prepared better on the first night than the second: the Butter Infused Rum Old Fashioned is exactly that, and on the first night was far less cloying with butter than the second, so loses points on the second night – but displayed excellence on the first.
The following 5 bars are the ones I had to choose 2 winners from, they all succeeded in presented fantastic drinks worthy of winning, but the 2 winners had to excel on all fronts – and a little bit extra.
Rated at ****, runners up were:
Trailer Happiness, who doesn’t love a bit of them? Lamb’s Navy Rum, house tiki vermouth, Bergamot syrup and tea tincture made the Prime Minister, a take on the classic El Presidente. The distinct caramel of the rum needs it to be stirred throughout the drink to prevent it from settling to a cloying finish, but the Bergamot and tea acidity come through beautifully to a sophisticated cover of the classic.
The Rivoli Bar came in with their own little section boarded away from the public, presenting their Beluga vodka Caviar Martini every 15 minutes to 4 drinkers each session. A splash of house vermouth, homemade caviar tincture and celery salt certainly presented a smooth Martini with the distinct flavour of caviar and an accompaniment of caviar/thyme foam on a seaweed cracker. The drink and the bartenders reflected the quiet confidence of the Rivoli, and they excelled in their drink and technique – but the addition of the ‘sessions’, with the bouncer and assistant taking ‘reservations’ for 4 people at a time tipped their quiet confidence into arrogance; this was not a venue for this take on presentation or style of hospitality. Predictably, people were late to ‘reservations’, messing up the timing, and the session itself was just the bartenders explaining the ingredients of the drink (as at every other stall). Fantastic drink, bizarre and unsuitable presentation.
The Megaro Bar (Click HERE for the bar’s review!) presented us with a drink to make their menu from November 1st 2014, the Evans Angels, Evan Williams Extra Aged, Sauternes, D.O.M. Benedictine, Angostura bitters and green tea tincture. I adored the richness of their drink, which maintained a slight dryness which would have been emphasised with a bit more of the green tea tincture, which I would’ve appreciated. This came with apricot compote and foie gras canapé, and the Megaro’s signature cinema seating, simple and quintessentially Megaro (down the road!).
Now, the winners on each night! Both bars presented not only drinks that excelled with their cocktails, but also in their presentation of the drink and stall, their service, and their additional something-something.
Rated *****, we have:
The Gilbert Scott (from across the street!) made an appearance with an odd little number called The Illusion. I shrugged off the silly Matrix pill reference to find an excellently concocted drink of spectacular originality and personality. Presentation of the stall was impeccable in the Gilbert Scott’s typical finery, with the strange ‘choice’ posed to customers (which the Hoodooist obviously sorted by having both, what I liked about this is that they were not two separate drinks, but the same drink that emphasised different flavour notes of the ingredients). The unique silky softness of the Martin Miller’s gin meets West Country ingredients like intense samphire, cinnamon, and cassia bark; lemon, sugar and then charged with CO2. The ‘Red’ variety of the cocktail focuses more on sweeter cinnamon, which pales in comparison to the ‘Blue’ variety, a clear winner with its focus on minerality and herbal flavour.
And our second winner, and probably the one I favour a bit more, is the Reverend JW Simpson with their Larder Batch: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Pinot Noir and pink peppercorn reduction, cardamom bitters and angostura bitters; with a steak accompaniment. In terms of presentation, it stuck with the theme of the bar and the Four Roses bourbon, without turning into some kind of mish-mash like The Alchemist’s table. And the service was conversational, fun, and effervescent like the event itself, unlike the surgical coldness of the Rivoli stall. The accompaniment suited both the intense aspects of the drink, the bourbon, and Pinot Noir/pink peppercorn reduction – here the Reverend presents us with a steak dinner in a cocktail format and a nibble; the natural spiciness of the Four Roses Small Batch, and that of the peppercorn and cardamom suits the steak perfectly. The Reverend excelled on all fronts and more.
And that’s a wrap! Cocktails in the City was an excellent amuse bouche to the carnivale of London Cocktail Week October 2014, and here we are, already salivating. God knows I can’t wait till CitC again next year.