The Fat Bear, St Pauls

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, American
Damage£££
Ideal forFoodSmall GroupsLarge GroupsAfter Work

An undisturbed backstreet just off the road from St Paul’s grand cathedral, away from the bustle of the tourist crowd, there hides a gem, just above the Rising Sun.

Blues on the speakers, The Fat Bear’s low light and decor is a portal to Louisiana, easy going and demands you carry a fan with you for the drama. The venue creates a delightful balance of light heartedness and a casual fanciness, like dining at a pressed white tablecloth venue without feeling the need to roll your eyes every 5 minutes. As per the name and theme, I felt it was only fair to rock up in an enormous fur coat with fan. Look, I like themes, alright?

The food menu is a Southern delight but resist the urge to order everything, this veritable orgy of food will overwhelm you. When the two of us clearly were out of our league we did have to enlist the help of a bartender and a friend in the area to tackle our order – these portions are deceptively enormous!

One of our favourite bartenders and a wizard with rum, Gergὄ serves up a Solera Club, a lower ABV beauty. Mixing Amontillado sherry, Cynar, peche, and absinthe; nutty sherry makes a sweeping entrance before allowing the stone fruit to blossom, dragging you back down into the bittersweet Cynar, ending on the aniseed effervescence of the absinthe. A dozen times, yes.

But if you want that sour pick me up, the Pendennis is here for you: gin, apricot, lemon and Peychaud’s bitters. Astringent and in heels, the cocktail opens with spicy Bimber gin as a backdrop to the apricot that takes the stage, ending on a length of aniseed and Creole spice.

Now listen to me very carefully, reader. You want the corndogs. Order the corndogs. I don’t know what it is that makes these corndogs so addictive, but a pair of these (especially when paired with the sriracha mayo) will make your night. The train of starters kept coming in: the southern fried boneless chicken tenders were a crispy perfection, competing for the most attention for chicken with the kickin’ buffalo wings with their blue cheese dip – fighting hard for some of the best I’ve had in the city. Need more chilli? Ask about the Fat Bear’s extensive hot sauce list – why do Creole remoulade when you can do ghost peppers?

In typical Gergὄ fashion, we ain’t leaving with getting our fill of Tiki cocktails! The Tiki Sour combines Jamaica Cove Pineapple Rum, Somerset cider brandy, Orgeat, Falernum, lime, cinnamon bitters, egg white. Pineapple and cinnamon on the nose, the apple eau de vie tags on the arm of the pineapple rum, spice in their wake. The Falernum and lime helps temper the sweetness of the orgeat and cinnamon for a whole tour of flavour. In many ways, a classic Sour – which we down with our wonderfully savoury pimento cheese and toasted ciabatta, and fries topped with cheese, spring onion and bacon while waiting for our mains – yeah it’s at this point we should have assumed we were being ambitious.

Mid meal, say hello to the Welcome to Oaxaca: Gem & Bolt Mezcal, Ocho Tequila, Benedictine, Yellow Chartreuse, Miracle Mile Lime and Bergamot bitters. As part of what seems to be our global tour of cocktails, we pull up in my favourite spirit-homeland. Normally made with Sekforde Tequila Mixer, the mixer is switched out for bitters because by now we know my style.

Gem & Bolt Mezcal kicks down the door to the tune of Boys by Lizzo before immediately swirling into peppery, herbaceous Ocho tequila. Herbal and sweet eucalyptus of Yellow Chartreuse and spicy-bitter Benedictine step in before just as quickly returning to a finish of lightly smoky and floral Gem & Bolt.

And here’s the kicker: the best gumbo and jambalaya this side of the Atlantic.
Chicken, custom made Andouille sausage and prawns stew make a gumbo that blow the rest out of the water, and a spicy seafood jambalaya of prawn, catfish and Andouille sausage smothering rice for a Creole experience unbeaten in the UK. But that’s why you’re here.
On the side, creamed greens and mac & cheese, because clearly we haven’t learned our lesson in portions.

Ending the meal evening with a few neat spirits to celebrate the impressive and unique back bar, the Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Rye on the nose is a glory. Caramel and sweetest cinnamon carouse around nutty warm spice. Opening with hazelnut and soft marzipan, the honeyed powder spice ends chocolatey and smokey with soaking, sugared dates and fig. What a gorgeous dram.

Finally, here they come – flaming Baked Alaska and oreo cheesecake to end the meal. Perfection, this Alaska, blue and radiant, and the oreo cheesecake a decadent chocolatey delight. By this point we basically recruited two more people to help make our way through the meal. But honestly, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Finally, to conclude, the Long Pond 11-year-old 2007 Rum. Wow. This one is unforgiving and smooth – blasting your palate with spice and florals before descending into familiar cocoa and cigar smoke and coffee bean. A perfect alternative to a cigar.

The Fat Bear is somewhat overlooked as one of the most hedonistic nights out in the City, and possibly in London. You might have shaved a solid 5 years off your lifespan but by Screamin’ Jay Hawkin’s false septum piercing it was damn well worth it. I mean you’re sitting at the bar across from the entire Pappy’s whiskey selection and the Antique range by Buffalo Trace while filled with cheese, you aren’t in any place to complain.

Even if you’re just popping by on the way home from work for a pair of corndogs and a bourbon, come down to this little Louisiana haven – you won’t regret it.

Drinks: ****-*****
Atmosphere: ****
Service: *****

The Fat Bear

61 Carter Ln,
London EC4V 5DY

http://www.thefatbear.co.uk

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Cocktails in the City 2019, London

Once again, Cocktails in the City is coming into serve thirsty Londoners some of the best cocktails London has to offer!

Yes, CitC 2019 is a bringing 25 of London’s most exciting bars in the subterranean lairs of The Waterloo Vaults for a raucous three-day celebration of the city’s unique and diverse drinking scene.  Festival-goers will get a chance to enjoy bars from around the city coming together in one gorgeous location on April 4th – 6th.

Bars and a representing brand set up stalls where bartenders presented the brand in a cocktail of their devising to the public for judging, with scores gathered at the end of the weekend.

Expect cocktails from renowned London bars like the new Heads + Tails, the B&H Buildings, Nightjar, and more! And be ready for the appearance of international cocktails bars flying in for the experience!

This year “guests can sip their way through new trend-surfing drinks as they discover each arch transformed into a new drinking emporium. Watch London’s top bartenders square up in the ‘CITC Battle Ring’, explore ‘The Botanical Cove’ bursting with flora and fauna, take a seat in our ‘Subterranean Speakeasies’, taste the future in ‘The Experimental Lab’, sip champagne in the ‘F*&K Me I’m Famous Arch’ or get down and dirty in the ‘Dive Den’.”

Cocktails in the City showcases the world’s most inventive  and original cocktail bars, bringing together the cream of London’s illustrious cocktail culture, all within sipping distance of each other.
Cocktails in the City is a bar-hopper’s paradise, creating a village of pop-up bars for guests to explore, each with their own unique aesthetic, hosting tastings, workshops, games and of course, a plethora of talented mixologists creating out-of-this world cocktails.”

CITC 2019 is prepared to dazzle this year, with a whole host of new experiences that leaves the Hoodooist stunned and excited!

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Get lost in the Secret Garden

Enter the Secret Garden and discover a world full of flora and fauna, overflowing with plants and botanicals. Explore B&H Buildings’ sensory Greenhouse on the mezzanine where you can choose your garnishes from the hanging plants discover new botanical cocktails with Mr Foggs and enjoy a drink in the garden.

Party hard in The Good Times Vault

Get down and dirty in the Good Times Vault, with favourite party bars such as London Cocktail Club, and  enter a world where the drinks are always strong, the music is always loud and the night is always young.

Witness cocktail wizardry in the Experimental Lab

Learn from the famed industry mavericks driving the city’s cocktail trends. Marvel at their cocktail wizardry in the experimental lab and get a sneak peak of the innovative techniques used to create award winning drinks.

Pretend you’re famous in the House of Luxe

Sit back, relax and enjoy luxurious surroundings and sumptuous champagne drinks from London’s most exclusive cocktail institutions.

Travel back in time in the underground bunker

Bringing you raucous good old fashioned fun, step back in time with Cahoots as they bring their underground tube carriage to the iconic London venue.

Discover a new favourite bar in The Neighbourhood

With new bars popping up all over London, find a new favourite as we bring you the critics’ pick of Neighborhood hangouts from a multitude of further afield boroughs. Zone 5 here we come!

Become an international jetsetter

Be swept away to the giddy romance of Florence and sample Negronis galore as we bring you a bar all the way from bella Italia.

Don’t forget! The Tasting Flight, where guests can sample three cocktails and pick their favourite: just £7.50 for three taste-tests alongside the Sensory Cocktail Journey where sight, sound, touch and smell are used to craft bespoke cocktails based on your emotion.

“Guests are encouraged to try their hand behind the bar, explore new trends, sip on some of the world’s newest and most premium spirit and liqueur inventions and taste unusual and rare ingredients, as Cocktails in the City takes you on a cocktail adventure through London’s drinks scene in one night, without even having to leave the building.”

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Some favourites from years past include:

The Looking Glass Cocktail Club, Shoreditch – harking back to Maker’s Mark’s history as breadmakers, this cocktail is inspired by Italy’s sweet panettone bread loaf and it’s potent almond flavour.

The Maker’s Baker cocktail mixes Maker’s Mark whiskey, cider reduction with winter spice, Americano vermouth, ‘Liquid Panettone’, and Sinner Bitters. A sweet wintery Manhattan with heavy mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and spices, with lingering almond certainly took centre stage with it’s innovative homemade creations of ‘liquid panettone’ and spiced cider reduction.

Other cocktails presented by LGCC included the Honey Loaf, and Fig Muffin – each an excellent rendition on the baker/distiller theme.

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Fifteen, Old Street, came in with another winner! Inspired by Wimbledon’s classic, the Strawberries and Cream.

Inspired by Behn’s Milk Punch, this summery cocktail gets a 300 year update and is a massive mix of Langley’s gin, strawberries, whole milk, Dolin dry vermouth, coconut water, green tea, lemon juice and peels, sugar, pink peppercorns, tarragon and coriander seeds.

And what a fabulous mix it is!

A wonderful well balanced, silky cocktail, sweet without being overbearing and mellowed by the fruit and spices. Absolutely fantastic.

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Another great cocktails from CITC’s past is the 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, and the service was conversational, fun, and effervescent like the event itself. 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.

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So if you love your cocktails, get yourself a ticket asap, and see you at Cocktails in the City 2019!

The Vaults
Leake St, Lambeth,
London SE1 7NN

Thursday 4th, Friday 5th and Saturday 6th April: From 6 – 11.30pm
Tickets are priced at £20 and include a cocktail, multiple complimentary experiences and cocktail booklet.

www.cocktailsinthecity.com

The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel, Birmingham

Type of Bar: Hotel, Art Deco
Damage: ££-£££
Ideal for: Small Groups, Date, Afternoon Tea

On my last post we explored some of the stars of the Birmingham bar scene, but it’s time we talked about what they had in common – both managers of Nocturnal Animals and 18/81 are alum of the award-winning B’ham institution that is the Edgbaston.

So, after an all-nighter of working on my Bites Here and There conference lecture, what a relief it was collapse onto my bed at the Edgbaston Boutique Hotel. Massive room in a Grade II listed building, gorgeously done in black and gold Art Deco, extending from the theme that dominates the hotel yet contrasting against the Victorian architecture. After a long shower, you know full well I raided room service to find out:

Room. Service. Cocktails.

I can imagine you also already know full well the 15 GBP half-bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne in the fridge accompanied me into the free-standing Victorian bathtub in the middle of room soaked with Elemis Lavender bath oils, along with the room serve Smokey Old Bastard cocktail.

And once one’s had their fill of Sevdaliza’s ISON, turning on the TV to find Diana Rigg announcing she wants ‘Cersei to know it was her’ made for a fantastic pre-birthday treat to turn a bedroom into a pseudosauna after a few hours in the bath.

So, outside the superb boutique hotel experience, what do we have to say about the bar?

The first night’s cocktail was probably my favourite of my weekend in Birmingham (alongside the Oaxaca at 18/81). The Smokey Old Bastard mixes Aberlour A’Bunadh whisky, Ardbeg 10 yr, Pedro Ximinez sherry and Maple.

Now you know I love it already. The A’Bunadh powers through gorgeously. A classic sherry-heavy whisky, the Oloroso butts impart those orange and Xmas spices notes to the nose. The palate is indulgent, and wintery – dark chocolate, cherries, lots of dry fruit and warm spice. Being cask strength, the finish is powerful and lasting, bittersweet and spicy. A favourite. Adore this whisky.

The Ardbeg 10, refusing to be outdone, cuts through the sweetness of the Aberlour, maple and PX sherry with a machete of citrus and smoke, and refuses to be ignored. Balancing the sweetness of the cocktail perfectly, the Smokey Old Bastard is beautifully balanced between spicy smoke and sweet, deep sherry, nutty, chocolatey goodness.

We’ve all dated this guy before and kind of regret dumping him.

The next day is a blur of trains and conferences, but I’m back to see a dear friend at the Edgbaston bar – now I get to enjoy the venue as it should be. Black and gold décor with our wonderful hosts, manager Tommy and bartender Matt who are absolute delights to spend an evening with and wizards behind the bar. This isn’t counting the quiet library bar in the next room, or the golden basement bar.

She orders the Strawberry Vale, and I love to see cocktail return to a simplicity that works. Hendrick’s gin, cucumber, prosecco and fresh strawberries. Vanilla that normally cowers bursts through, encouraged by the strawberry – cucumber trails in on the tails of the prosecco.

Finally, a question I repeatedly asked myself in the 10-hour chore that was Lord of the Rings, Who Wants To Go To Mordor Anyway?

Sacred gin mixed in with Lagavulin 16 yr whisky, Campari, fresh lemon and a waste-fruit tepache. The sweetened ferment provides a powerful sour tropical flavour that dominates the cocktail, but still saves some modesty to allow the peat and brine of the Lagavulin 16 in, accompanied on arm by the bitter Campari.

This drink is a fascinating experience for the adventurous drinker, but for the novice the strong flavours might be a bit of a challenge.

Between the immaculate service and delightful company, the spectacular drinks and wonderful surrounds, one can see why the Edgbaston has won its awards. And with the superb rooms upstairs, this three-bar venue is worth the stay – the alum of the excellent bars of Birmingham graduating from their stations at the Edgbaston is a testament to the hotel’s originality and talent behind the bar. If you do anything in Birmingham, come down to the Edgbaston with a Smokey Old Bastard on hand.

Drinks: ****-*****
Atmosphere: *****
Service: *****

The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel

18 Highfield Rd,
Birmingham, B15 3DU


https://www.theedgbaston.co.uk

18/81, and Nocturnal Animals, Birmingham

Someone should have let me know that I was sleeping on Birmingham’s bar scene cause damn.

Spending a weekend in the Midlands at the Bites Here and There conference, the Hoodooist and friends got to crawl around some of the most impressive cocktails bars B’ham has to offer.

18/81

Type of Bar: Speakeasy
Damage: ££
Ideal for: Small Groups, Date

I ain’t gonna tell you how to find this venue, but follow your gut. London’s speakeasies could learn a thing or two about how to….be an actual speakeasy from 18/81.

Once in, the décor is clean and simple, a risky decision but lord, was I happy to not see a speakeasy made of low lights and leather armchairs.

This menu unapologetically revels in the return of vodka and that is so refreshing to see.

The Oaxaca

The Oaxaca mixes mezcal, mole negro, red Muscat, and served with a dark chocolate garnish.

“Is this just you in a glass?” Natalie of legal and IT recruiters Tap Search asks.

And she has a point. Smoky mezcal with hints of white pepper gives into lightly floral sweet Muscat, before being a submerged into dark chocolate and spicy chilli, from the savouriness of the mole. Do I love this cocktail? It goes on forever and stands as one of the best I’ve had in a while,and certainly the best I’ve had in Birmingham (in competition with the Smokey Old Bastard by the Edgbaston Hotel).

The Garden to Glass

The Garden to Glass serves vodka, wild nettle, cut grass, and garden herbs

Spectacular. Icy vodka prickled with fresh, grassy notes and effervescent nettle that cuts through the herbs. If light cocktails are your style, this is what you need.

Le Jardin once again gives us vodka, this time with jasmine, wormwood, and wild flowers. I have mixed feelings here. I do like the perfumed nature of the drink, and the anisey wormwood, but it feels a little *too* perfumed. If you like bitter and floral, here’s your cocktail, an acquired taste though it is.

The Shandong Blonde, and Le Jardin

The Shandong Blonde, a mix of vodka (Well, this has clearly made a comeback), Szechuan pepper flower, citrus, borage honey. Sweeter, if a bit confused. Maybe I’m just being fussy after the Oaxaca and Garden to Glass? The light floral spice feels a bit conflicted against the powerful raw honey sweetness of the borage honey. It doesn’t taste how you’d expect it, while also tasting exactly how you’d expect it to.

With a spectacular team behind the bar, service is impeccable. 18/81 serves us an amazing experience, down to the hunt for the venue.

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: **
Service: *****

18/81
Thorp St,
Birmingham B5 4AU

http://1881birmingham.co.uk/

Nocturnal Animals

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant
Damage: ££
Ideal for: FoodSmall Groups, Date

Talk about a showstopping look. Black walls, blue banquettes, neon against a massive bar – complete with multi-sensory distortion dividers (touch em, you’ll see what I mean). Nocturnal Animals knows how to turn a look – and don’t miss the IG opportunities downstairs!

This menu is set up in an excellent manner – each section has a base spirit and set of ingredients, followed by three takes on that mix – the Short, the Sharp, and Long – each a longer version of the prior.

The Short Pisco, adds pink grapefruit, rosewater, peach, Turmeon Rose vermouth, Aperol, and Japanese peach bitters to the mix.

The fruit of the Turmeon Rose Vermouth comes through on the nose quite spectacularly. The palette is similarly sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. For its sweetness, the drink is perfectly short, since it would take you as long to drink.

Wonderfully fruited from the vermouth and fruits, the pisco and Aperol just pull it back from a fructose hell into being a fabulously balanced sweet cocktail with a mild winter spice hit. Wave after wave of fruit notes make this a rollercoaster delight.

The Short Pisco

The Short Gin, mixes green chilli, pear eau de vie, Turmeon weed vermouth, and charred fennel bulbs.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the political ramifications of racism and the prison system in the legal cannabis market but anyway, here we are being edgy.

That said, this Martini works excellently, though is an acquired taste. The gin is drowned out by the other ingredients, however. The bright chilli is immediately followed up by the cannabis flavour of the vermouth and fennel, but eventually settling on the sweeter notes of the pear and vermouth, and a great long finish.

The Short Gin

Remember to book, this place is booked up and take in all this dystopian sexiness.

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: ****
Service: ***

Nocturnal Animals
20 Bennetts Hill,
Birmingham B2 5QJ

https://www.nocturnal-animals.co.uk/

Join us again next time for our review of the Edgbaston Hotel, Birmingham!

BOLD London Spirit

Charming BOLD Brand Ambassador Tomas Lenko welcomes us into London’s popular Hide Bar, famous for its policy on primarily serving up spirits and ingredients prepared in London.

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Many have probably already encountered BOLD London Spirit, an enigmatic little bottle popularly known as a cherry aperitif, but in reality a much more versatile cherry based spirit in its own right alongside vodka, gin and other cocktail bases we all know and love.

At 36% ABV, it packs a punch, but it doesn’t dull the flavours of cherry, cloves, or cassia. Inspired by the flavours of his childhood and the varieties of wild cherries in the UK, sour cherry bursts forth, followed immediately by bitter and floral notes of spices – making it a fantastic digestif as well.

An up-by-the-bootstraps project, the home-grown spirit is a tribute to life in London.

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The Strongman’s Sour mixes BOLD, lemon, orgeat, chocolate bitters for an excellent nightcap. A sweet sour, the cherry settles in with the chocolate like the perfect liqueur candy, with the nuttiness and floral of the orgeat lifting it up from being too heavy. How rare is it for me to love a drink with chocolate bitters?

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The BOLDvardier gives us BOLD, Campari and sweet vermouth for a wonderfully fruity take on the classic, and is much more forgiving for those who struggle with the strong whiskey flavours of a classic Boulevardier. Instead the BOLD removes the need for a cherry garnish and instead replaces it with a bright and uplifting orange, which classically intensifies the brighter flavours of the vermouth and Campari.

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And in time for the summer, the Chelsea Rose is a tall tipple with BOLD, raspberry, apple – super-sweet, yet somehow not offensively so. Perfect for the summer, classic fruit flavours of cherry, apple and raspberry make it a great grown up juice box.

And in a world where G&Ts are a dime a dozen, the Hoodooist is pleased to see the B&T be a refreshing change – and something that changes the way we approach an icy summer afternoon fruit cocktail. BOLD, Tonic, ice, sorted.

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Two years down the line, BOLD continues to be one of the more intriguing additions to the London drinks scene, and one that I massively enjoy. Cherry liqueurs are too cloying, but as a spirit, BOLD allows us to enjoy the flavours in a completely different way – as an aperitif, a digestif, a winter warmer like the Strongman’s Sour, or a summer sip like the Chelsea Rose as easily as ordering a BOLD and Tonic.

 

Death+Victory, Smithfield

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant
Damage: £££
Ideal for: FoodSmall GroupsLarge GroupsAfter Work

 

Smiths of Smithfields, a Farringdon staple for it’s multiple floors and enormous space, has long attracted city boys after work and meetings in the day time. One of its floors has now been relaunched as Death + Victory, a dedicated cocktail space.

This smaller bar exists as a more private, less formal, room away from the rest of the venue, allowing for some intimacy and conversation. In teals and yellows, with low candle light, it maintains a city-chic.

We were looked after by George, who was attentive and made fantastic conversation. Even when busy, we didn’t feel overlooked.

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The menu is meant to be easy and accessible to the cater to the after-work or quick meeting experience. Light and easy drinking cocktails that often come as twists on classics.

The Smooth Fields presents us with a twist on the whiskey sour – Jameson Caskmates stout edition whiskey, Amaro Averna, egg white, lemon, sugar syrup. The Caskmates’ nose of orchard fruit and the Amaro’s spice comes through on the nose. As a sour, it holds its own with the Amaro’s bittersweet orange zest and liquorice flavours adding a bit of tart bitterness to the sweeter Irish potstill and hopsy notes from the stout cask.

While we’re on the sour train, the Monkey Went To Market mixes Monkey 47 gin, apricot liqueur, lime juice, gomme, egg white and garnished with mango. An excellent sour where the woodsy and spicy Monkey 47 is balanced out against the apricot for a bright cocktail.

Our final two cocktails include the one that didn’t work too well and one that was excellent.

The Horace, I think, is entirely too ambitious. Absolut Elyx, jasmine tea, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, chocolate bitters, Champagne creates a cacophony of clashing flavours and temperatures, with the hot tea is mixed in with the cold spirits, and asking the bartender to chill it down was one way of making it more drinkable.

On the other hand, The Regal was an excellent take on a classic Brooklyn.

The bar had (luckily) just run out of Lillet Rouge, which would be the usual vermouth for the cocktail (let’s leave the argument for whether or not Lillet is a vermouth for another time). Instead we used the Lillet Blanc to mix with Chivas Regal 18YO, Maraschino and honey water.

Saving the cocktail from the potentially sickly mix of the Rouge, the Blanc instead allows for a lighter yet still decadent cocktail where the marmalade and cocoa of the Chivas mellow out the honey water, with that added candied orange and quinine of the Lillet Blanc giving it that little kick.

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The Horace and the Regal

If I were to raise a concern, it would be that the prices were slightly steep for the offering at 12 GBP each.

Outside that one concern, we must acknowledge the comfortable space and attentive service, the drinks were all approachable and enjoyable, and it is pleasing to see an after-work staple for so many in the area step up its cocktail game.

 

Drinks: **-***
Atmosphere: ****
Service: ****

Death + Victory @ Smiths of Smithfield

67-77 Charterhouse St, Clerkenwell,
London EC1M 6HJ

https://www.smithsofsmithfield.co.uk/death-victory-cocktail-bar

Savage Garden LDN, Tower Hill

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Rooftop
Damage: £££
Ideal for: ViewFoodDateSmall Groups, Large GroupsAfter Work

Overlooking the Tower of London and the gorgeous Trinity House, the Sky Lounge of the Doubletree Hilton has been revamped into the wildly beautiful Savage Garden.

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From the sweeping view of old London to the stunningly modern decor, the bar evokes a sense of expanse and clashing beauties that gives clout to the bar’s name.

From the dining room, to the hall and main bar, to the two terraces hosting carnivorous counters for seafood and meats, to the Beefeater (We’re next to the Tower, so) gin terrace and Jägermeister bar, the enormous venue attempts to cater to all eagerly making the most of the sun by sunset – which is met with a live band in the main bar area overlooking Tower Bridge.

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We were immediately welcomed with citrus buttermilk chicken sliders, crisp and brought to life with kimchi slaw and Korean gochujang-inspired ketchup, and soon after moreish beef sliders served in threes on a bone. Our time on the sunset terrace was accompanied by crispy prawn toast with a delightfully smokey bacon jam. The venue wants to make something very clear: they know their proteins.

Worry not for vegetarian options! Not far away we found the honey miso aubergine burgers served with fried green tomatoes, mozzarella and basil in their glorious red brioche.

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Well, we did say savage.

Not that we’ve forgotten about the cocktails!

Opening we have the Devil’s Advocate: Olmeca Blanco tequila meets pink grapefruit and lemon, blackcurrant and sage. Outside the deceptive name and the threatening chilli garnish, this drink is incredibly tame for the light drinker – though I suspect it might sneak up on you.

This vegetal tequila mingles smoothly with the sage, that adds a pleasant contrast to the sweet blackcurrant and bright grapefruit.

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Now if you’re looking for something slightly punchier, you wanna check out the Flambard Colada, inspired by the infamous Ranulf Flambard – first prisoner in the Tower of London, and the first to escape it – Havana Club 3YO rum mixes with pineapple, cucumber, topped up with Ayala champagne and a hint of absinthe. I found toning down the cucumber and upping the absinthe did wonders for this cocktail as a less creamy alternative to the tiki classic.

The marzipan of the rum stands out on the nose, and the cocktail itself packs a punch though it might seem innocent at first glance. The initial cucumber fades to a subtler pineapple that accompanies the champagne, waiting for the absinthe to cut through. Should probably relax on the garnish though, visually speaking.

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The Wild Poison makes a great long drink to relax with. Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, Merlet apricot brandy, cloudy apple juice, smoked pine syrup, Campari, with the garnish of ‘poison apple’.

The simplicity of the visuals is refreshing, while maintaining a solid theme, which I like. And though it is one of the sweeter drinks tried that evening, it isn’t offensively so (we are all aware by now of my struggle with sweet cocktails). You might take your time with the heaviness of this cocktail, but the mix is wonderful.

The USA has seen several renditions of the Apple Bourbon with a hint of sweet, so here Savage Garden takes a well-loved homemade goodie and give it a London up-do. This summery take on an Autumn cocktail uses Merlet apricot brandy in place of the oft-used honey or maple, while balancing out some of the excess sweetness with smoked pine and bitter Campari – making it accessible to a wide range of palates.

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Our last two cocktails were possibly our favourites of the evening, and two very different cocktails indeed.

One certainly counts as dessert: the Horny Beast comes inspired from the savage gardens of the Red Riding Hood tale in a mix of Beefeater pink gin, Aluna coconut rum, almond, lime, green strawberry, smoke and oak bitters, apple, rhubarb, and cinnamon soda, served with a strawberry, lime, and black pepper cracker.

Okay. So. Let’s discuss that cracker.

This cocktail is worth getting for that cracker.

The cocktail is a swirl of flavours that settles on ‘grown up cotton candy bubblegum’ which is bizarre, and yet… works. Well. I never thought I’d find myself saying that about something I’d describe as cotton candy bubblegum, yet here we are. A surprisingly fun drink that embraces itself.

Also that cracker.

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Finally, probably my favourite drink of the evening shouldn’t have surprised me from the moment I read the first ingredient.

Hey, we all have favourites.

The Lady Grey mixes Freya birch spirit, Seedlip Spice 94, apple and Earl Grey liqueur, oak and aromatic spices, topped up with Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic.

Clear, composed, with a certain nobility in flavour, the Lady Grey has a running  undernote of the earthy birch spirit all the way through the cocktail, as the woody and spicy Seedlip’s cardamom finds itself comfortable in the spice mix. The Earl Grey liqueur soon comes to the fore as the cocktail soon settles on the floral tonic.

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If there was one thing I would add to this cocktail menu, it would be short cocktails. A lot of what we had seen was primarily topped up with juices, sodas, champagnes and tonics – and though each drink was carefully designed with a distinct personality that worked well with their length, those of us who enjoy our short drinks will have a smaller choice.

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Savage Garden is a strange beast. With its sprawling square footage and variety of bars and food counters and terraces it feels like more of a touring experience than a singular bar.

One thing is for certain, with the retractable ceilings and immense view, it will always be a summer draw, so expect late night parties under this wild city’s sky.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere: *****
Service: ****


Savage Garden LDN @ The Doubletree Hilton,

7 Pepys St,
London EC3N 4AF

https://www.savagegarden.co.uk/