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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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/

The Elephant’s Head, Hackney

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, Pub
Damage££
Ideal forFoodDateSmall Groups, SundaysAfter Work

 

It’s firmly back in place!
The Elephant’s Head has reclaimed it’s spot at 43 Lower Clapton! Which is exactly what we all needed after years of the venue changing hands.

The pub has itself ready for anything, a spot to spend the night with friends, a dim lit room to nurse a hangover, and not mention, a fantastic Sunday roast.

And they ain’t too shabby on the cocktail front! Classics with a few signatures, the bar knows what they do, and do it well.

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Before our late night roast makes its way in, we sit below the beautiful stained glass ceiling nursing an El Chapo and a Martinez.

The classic Martinez has gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters, but this classic is twisted slightly with a 2:1 gin:vermouth rather than the old 1:1. The result is a lighter, brighter, much more balanced and modern cocktail.

The El Chapo stands out tonight as the best of the bar’s signature cocktails: Ocho Tequila, agave syrup, lime, ginger syrup, a mezcal float with candied ginger garnish. The sweet agave of the tequila and light white pepperiness is followed up by citrus to end with a crackle of ginger. Simple, clean, wonderful.

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After a plate of wings, a classic Japanese Cocktail makes an appearance with cognac, orgeat, lemon juice and Angostura bitters – sweet with almond and orange flavours, with an undercurrent of ripe fruit and oaky vanilla from the cognac. Certainly for the sweet tooth.

The roast sirloin was perfectly medium rare, but what we were cheering on were those incredible infinite trimmings. Tenderstem broccoli with peppered sweet root vegetables, roast potatoes that though simple were entirely too addictive, and *that* cheesy cauliflower with that distinct honeyed sweetness.

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After a second helping of the methtatoes, the now unable to move Hoodooist and co. order Gin, and Tequila Old Fashioneds, respectively.

The Gin Old Fashioned gave us rosemary infused gin, maple syrup, and black walnut bitters – which is a promising recipe, but the maple could overpower the rosemary gin – although that’s easily sorted by asking for a little less maple syrup for a sweet and savoury digestif.

The Tequila Old Fashioned I wanted extra spicy, and extra spicy I got it: tequila, chilli, agave syrup, grapefruit bitters, for a brighter alternative to the Gin variant. The agave and the tequila give us the sweet and earthy, while the grapefruit and chilli go bright and effervescent. What an excellent combo.

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I’m glad the Elephant’s Head is back, and better than ever. With quality cocktails at a price you couldn’t frown at, the most dramatic WCs ever (no, seriously), and all the methtatoes with that excellent roast, the EH makes a great spot to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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

 

The Elephant’s Head

43 Lower Clapton Rd, Hackney
London E5 0NS, UK

https://www.elephanthackney.com/

T.T. Liquor, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Basement, Speakeasy, Cocktail School
Damage£ – ££
Ideal for: After Work, Date, Small Groups, Tasting, Shop

The sudden appearance of TT Liquor is a welcome gift from some of the folk behind Umbrella Brewing of the amazing Discount Suit Co. and Sun Tavern!

Only a couple of hours after the sign was put up, the Hoodooist found himself amazed by the venue from the street – aged wood and metal clasps in the ground floor guard some of the fantastic products that can be surprisingly hard to acquire, like the 5% ginger beer by Umbrella Brewing that is the talk of the town.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Mind, there are three floors to this venue, behind the store and upstairs are cocktail classrooms that make up what is essentially a cocktail school – this is literally my Hogwarts.

Downstairs, though, that’s where we find the bar and the ex-prison cells that make up the vaults where gin, rum, and whiskey tastings are held, including Cocktail Journeys, where several cocktails inspired by the various eras of cocktail culture are enjoyed as a flight. The cosy, candle lit surrounds are excellent for huddling over cocktails and small dishes served up at the venue.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

The menu is divided into eras, and are all wonderful takes on cocktails of their time. If you were to level a criticism against it, it would simply be that it seems to be a tiny bit gin heavy at times.

That’s not to say those that those cocktails that are there are not satisfying. They are gorgeous – the tequila Rosetta is one such beautiful cocktail.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Blending Arette Silver tequila, Briotte Rose, lime juice, rose water and syrup, the Rosetta’s nose is distinctly Arette. Upon first sip, it is tequila heavy – so agave fans will be most pleased. If the sound of rose is intimidating, there is nothing to worry about here, as the rose is quite subtle and soft, wisping in at the end, and lightened by the lime citrus.

Next, the Dorian, in keeping with one of Umbrella’s favourite whiskeys, mixes Redbreast 12 yr with hazelnut syrup and the Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters. A little bit on the sweet side and one note for myself, it is best to ask for a slightly less sweet take on this when ordering. Unless, of course, you’re really in the mood for bittersweet chocolate hazelnut!

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

The Dorian

Next, the Sexy Kung Fu Fighter really goes for it – Jinzu gin meets kumquat, fresh bergamot juice, kaffir lime and shiso leaves, Belsazar white vermouth and syrup. A little heavy on the bergamot, a bright, lively and effervescent cocktail with hints of kaffir lime and cherry blossom from the Jinzu. An exciting and enjoyable drink.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

The Sexy Kung Fu Fighter

Le Chat Noir is dangerous. Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Lillet Blanc, Henry Bardouin pastis, fresh lime juice, syrup and tarragon will deceive you, and vanish in the space of seconds. A long drink that is easy to down, you will have to consciously nurse this one early on, so they don’t get thrown back late in the evening.

Reminiscent of a (much) lighter take on a Corpse Reviver No.2, Le Chat Noir manages to channel the herbal tarragon and pastis incredibly well, for a light cocktail that does not hold itself from packing a punch in the long run.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Le Chat Noir

And then there is the signature.

Doing the rounds since about London Cocktail Week 2016, the home made Umbrella Brewing Ginger Beer packs a punch at 5%, with gorgeous effervescence and spice. A candied and ginger nose is followed by a palate that is uncompromisingly spicy, with hints of malty molasses sweetness, and citrus.

Beautiful.

Umbrella Brewing TT Liquor London cocktail bar

Honestly, it was great to see cocktails go back to simpler combos and try not to outdo themselves.

The only cocktail here I can say I did not take to was the Dead Ringer. Woodford Reserve, Toussaint coffee liqueur and Bob’s Peppermint bitters formed something not particularly enjoyable. But when held up to the beautiful cocktails above, who’s to care?

Do the right thing – go to TT Liquor. Get a class. Buy a bottle. Support your fabulous new local.

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

T. T. Liquor

17b Kingsland Road,
London E2 8AA

http://ttliquor.co.uk/

The Gibson, Clerkenwell

Type of Bar: Tiny, Experimental
Damage: ££ – £££
Ideal for: DateAfter Work

After being open for a while, The Gibson, known for it’s complex and imaginative menu highlighted by the simple classic that is its namesake, went for a small menu rehaul.

The new cocktails are similarly complex, boasting nearly a dozen ingredients at some points, taking risks with flavour profiles.

A first glance at the menu did make the Hoodooist a bit cautious, I am bit of a traditionalist with warning that drinks going past 5 ingredients were at risk for getting lost, but that won’t stop me from trying out new cocktails.

A tiny, intimate venue, with dim light and close range seating, the Gibson has gone for a powerfully apothecary atmosphere, reflecting its equally strange and varied menu, including everything from oregano flowers to the infusion of forest bees.

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The Garden of the Sun King

Beginning with a cocktail very much up the Hoodooist’s street, the Garden of the Sun King mixes Ailsa Bay whisky, infusion of forest bees, 3 La Quintinye Royal vermouths, lemon balm and leaf extract aged aquavit, maple ice wine tea and white port tincture, garnished with floregano, roasted pepper jacket and black olive.

Get the gist? Yeah.

The nose is undoubtedly full of red pepper, smokey and almost beefy. First sip is full of the tarry, smokey, liquorice of Ailsa Bay, followed by a light honey from the bee infusion. A lightness follows, from the lemon balm, then the white port. If you choose to dunk the red pepper in, a spice trails at the end. You want to finish this drink quickly – over time the sweetness begins to dominate the bottom half of the drink

whiskey cocktail the gibson bar london

Beyond the Pines

Next up, the Beyond the Pines. Loving pine flavours, this had to be tried. Monkey Shoulder whiskey and pine resin infusion, mixed with Kamm & Sons ginseng liqueur, lemon, ‘pine-apple’, elderflower juice, smoked juniper and rosemary honey, hot gooseberry chutney, ginger beer, wasabi, and matcha.

Thanks to the pine and flaming pinecone garnish, the nose is powerfully forest-y. In the best way. Palate starts with pine, smoked rosemary and juniper. There is a light effervescence to it, immediately followed by ginger and matcha, with a length of wasabi.

This was easily my favourite drink of the evening. Distinguishable flavours, cool and refreshing.

genever cocktail the gibson bar london

Winter in Neverland

Finally, the Winter in Wonderland was a great example as to why a dozen ingredients can be majorly problematic.

Cacao shell soaked Bols Genever, Mulled spiced cordial vintage cider, apple and pear conserve, lemon, 7 y.o. mandarin bitter, white snow waffle topped with raspberry and chocolate, cedarwood ice.

A cold drink the nose was spiced and citrus-y. But the drink was orange throughout, with the variety of flavours drowned out.

The stroopwaffel was ace, though.

cocktail the gibson bar london

Angel Tears

There is a food menu, with an exquisite beef tartare – love. Service is fab, however preparing these complex cocktails takes a while, so do be prepared. On the note of fab service, it has to be, as I found myself asking for flavour profiles being far more useful than reading the variety of ingredients. This can be difficult when working with a menu that is one of the longest I’ve seen in recent history.

The Gibson is a great bar for those who want to take risks and have the money to spend, there are certainly some gems like the Beyond the Pines here. I know I had a good night – but you do have to take risks and keep what you get. With the great staff, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem getting the flavour profiles down and chatting about what you enjoy.

And push comes to shove, order the Gibson Martini.

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

The Gibson

44 Old St,
London EC1V 9AQ.

Aqua Nueva & Spirit, Oxford Circus

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Spanish, Japanese
Damage££££
Ideal for: FoodDate, Small Groups, After Work

 

As crowded as Argyll Street is, it is easy to miss some of the signs around you – including the doorway that leads up to the 5th floor, where three of Aqua’s dining experiences are hidden away.

The opulently decorated Aqua series begins with the shimmering mirrored surfaces of the Aqua Spirit bar, before opening up to the Nueva restaurant, heralded by the charging Pamplona bull – an awful lot of spectacle, so the Hoodooist was curious to see if there was substance behind the glitz.

 

Aqua Kyoto Nueva London cocktails

The Smoke Over Spain

 

Once seated at our table, looking out the balcony to the Central London skyline, and over the bar of Nueva, we are served with the London Cocktail Week offering of the Smoke Over Spain.

I’m already sold with this. Tanqueray gin, orgeat, sherry, wild strawberry liqueur, fresh lemon juice and served with a paprika foam, a gorgeous balancing act of sweet without being sickly, citrus without being overpowering, and smoky for a burst of flavour. You begin with the smoky paprika foam that teases the tastebuds before a wash of fruit and nutty sweetness of the orgeat, giving way to the powerful strawberry flavour that dominates the drink, leading to a dry finish from the sherry.

This is a cocktail you will remember, even for the Hoodooist who notoriously avoids sweet or fruit dominated cocktails. I do wish this will find its way onto the cocktail menu year round, to firmly place Aqua on the map for cocktail ingenuity.

We enjoy snacks of Manzanilla olives, chickpea croquettes, and Iberian meats before being served padron peppers fried with olive oil and dusted with sea salt that the Hoodooist absolutely adores. The addition of sea salt does stand out from many servings of padron peppers, and the Hoodooist doubts he can have it any other way now! A pile of green pepper heads on his plate, we are served another cocktail.

 

 

Aqua Spirit Kyoto Nueva London cocktails

Salmon and avocado maki with salmon ‘pearls’

 

Aqua Spirit‘s offering of the Japanese Citrus initially does not go down well – until it dilutes. Then we find a wonderfully refreshing drink. The melting ice dilutes the pungency of the powerful yuzu sake, which is mixed with Ketel One vodka, fresh lemon juice, ginger syrup, Angostura bitters and topped with soda water. Once you’ve waited a few minutes, the yuzu citrus provides a wonderful backdrop for the ginger to sizzle.

This was paired with salmon and avocado maki, topped with salmon roe. Clearly freshly cut and succulent salmon made this sushi worth travelling for, exciting seasoned residents of Japan at our table. Soon, chicken wings stuffed with coriander and miso are served, as well as crisp prawn tempura with garlic chilli sauce.

 

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Finally, melt-in-your-mouth oxtail topped with avocado creme is paired with a glass of champagne, before the finale of a shot of Espresso Martini as a digestif to polish off a wonderful evening.

Staff at the Aqua Nueva & Spirit are faultless: polite, swift, and conversational. I do prize service above everything else at a bar, and the Aqua series certainly score here.

 

Overall, the glitz is not just for show. Cocktails are engineered to be paired with food, so do not attempt to be enormously complex or demanding – but when they do, we find stars like the Smoke Over Spain. The Japanese Citrus is also a great example at how cocktails meant to be paired can be enjoyable even on their own.The atmosphere is perfect for a celebratory dinner, after work drink on the balcony, and particularly for meetings. You can’t go wrong for why you’re here, really.

Sure, it’s a steep price, which is expected – but all things considered, the Aqua Nueva and Spirit are venues a visit to London should not do without.

 

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

 

Aqua Nueva & Spirit,

240 Regent St, Oxford Circus
London W1B 3BR

http://aquakyoto.co.uk/
http://aquanueva.co.uk/