Loungelover, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Lounge, Bar/Restaurant
Damage££
Ideal for: Small groups, Food, Sushi

Lounge Lover has certainly been through the motions for the past couple of years. 2012 it was the Shoreditch centre for sushi and the fashionable, 2014 brings with it tolling church bells of Buddha Bar-esque anonymity.

I’m not entirely sure what the look was they were going for, but in the line of similarly styled bars as 98, and the Looking Glass, ‘oppressive’ may have been it. The chaotic, smattering of various paraphernalia with no central theme running through it except ‘quirky’, was a bizarre trend of the late noughties that favoured no one except the most precise. Because ‘cute’ it most certainly ain’t.

After being shoved in a scorching hot (and loud) corner of the bar (‘I’m sorry, it’s just hot here, there’s nothing we can do’), and a server repeatedly forgot our orders before dropping our drinks smashing onto the floor, we finally got our hands on something to sip on.


Let’s start with the fairly decent one and make our way downhill from there. The Jubilation is Beefeater gin, muddled green and red grapes, elderflower cordial & lemon topped with Rose champagne. This is fairly successful as far as champagne cocktails go, which get lost in the bubbles – hence the necessity of the champagne being balanced with another spirit, the gin here. But, like most drinks with elderflower cordial, it begins to drown out the flavour. Eventually, you get a muddle of flavours you can’t quite dissect – which seems to be a theme at Loungelover (as most amateur cocktail bars – where, in lieu of a short, but carefully considered menu, you have a long long long list of less well-considered drinks. Apparently size matters; the length of the menu to bars, at least). 

The Unfaithful : Cachaca, rhubarb, plums and pear was similarly muddled, with the fruits not quite syncing well with the cachaca.  And the Angel’s Share, of Havana 7yr old Rum, apricot liqueur, homemade lemongrass and ginger syrup with muddled kumquats and kaffir lime leaves tasted entirely of apricot with a bit of ginger at the end.

Service was slow, due to how crowded the place was. Many groups of people were standing at the bar, while several tables suited to fit a dozen people would only have about 5 persons drinking there.

Loungelover feels like a haunting memory of when cocktails came back in a big way to London in the noughties, and feels confused in the modern state of the cocktail world. In the future when cocktails warp again, many of the currently excellent bars will get lost in the past as well – immortality in the bar scene is rare. Especially with bars like Loungelover that bet all their money on being fashionable instead of innovative.

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

Loungelover

1 Whitby Street
London E1 6JU

http://www.loungelover.uk.com

 

The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge, Clerkenwell

Type of Bar: Hotel, Lounge, Victorian
Damage££
Ideal for: Date, Small Groups

If you’re looking for the Zetter Townhouse Marylebone & Seymour’s Parlour (opened 2015), Click HERE!

A long-time favourite, The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge is where the Hoodooist fell in love with Tony Conigliaro’s work. The townhouse itself is hidden away and fairly discreet behind the more demanding Zetter Hotel and surrounding restaurants, but the design inside is unlike anything else in the area.

Deep reds lend to the Victorian-boyishness of the venue – between fireplaces crowned with stuffed parasol-wielding cats, and boxing kangaroos. Don’t let the ping-pong table in the Games Room (which can be hired for events) fool you; every inch of the luscious plushness of the venue is decorated with eccentricity. I could claim that this up there with the Artesian and Bar Americain (Click HERE for Review!) as one of the best looking bars in London.

ZTHlobby

The cocktail list is equally impressive. Altering every few months, some classics stay ever present. The general theme (at least amongst the most fascinating drinks) is short, but strong and intense in flavour, as well as being a bit experimental without trying far too hard – just the Hoodooist’s style, and reminiscent of the Megaro Bar.

Every single drink on the house cocktail list is one the Hoodooist would enjoy. Each is 9.5 (as well as house cocktails from the past no longer on the menu), but other drinks and classics will be 10.5 pounds.

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Drie Van Drie (L), The Flintlock (R)

Let’s look at one of the shining glories of the list: The Flintlock. Beefeater 24 gin, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, dandelion & burdock bitters, and Fernet Branca. It opens up with the Fernet Branca and gunpowder tea, leading to the strongest flavour of the drink: the dandelion sweetness. Sweet though it is, it never wanders far from the simmering deep fieriness of the more complex flavours.

The Drie Van Drie is present for whisky fans – infused with seaweed, with salted-liquorice bitters and sherry. Besides being a fantastic tipple, you may have to ask for another drop of the bitters to add a bit of complexity to it, or the whisky can overpower the rest of the cocktail. A very short drink, it still takes a while to enjoy with its strength and intensity. The seaweed is less of a punch-you-in-the-face flavour, but adds instead, an ambience to the experience. The sherry is unmistakable and warms the drinker nicely.

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Foreground: Constantinople (L), Les Fleurs du Mal (R); Background: Milk Collins (L), The Ivy (R)

For long drinks, the Milk Collins is an excellent choice – don’t fear the milk syrup, it is spectacularly welcoming to what would otherwise be a classic gin/lemon/sugar/soda combo. Normally fearing the long drink, even the Hoodooist took to the Milk Collins pretty quickly. Otherwise, there is the mysterious Ivy, Perrier Jouet Champagne with sugar that has been doused in ivy aromatics is a drink (though long), but be drunk quickly after a couple of minutes of breathing. The first half of the drink is fairly uninteresting, but the last half suddenly explodes with an enchanting greenness from the ivy. Apologies, but ‘enchanting greenness’ is the only way I could describe the ivy – you’ll know it when you taste it.

Let’s end with the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of the ZTH bar: Les Fleurs du Mal. It was removed from the menu quite a while ago, but the bartenders still get orders for it from old fans. Ordering it might be met with a sigh. Absinthe, rose vodka, lemon and egg white – the drink certainly has the strong absinthe flavour, the rose is faded behind the citrus. It’s worth trying if you’ve gone through the rest of the menu.  It could do with a bit more rose, and less citrus.

Oh, and do not miss the anchovy-stuffed deep-fried olives, or the chocolate fudge. You will thank me later.

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Service is excellent, informative, and engaging. Bartenders are happy to elaborate on drinks, make suggestions and knock something up if necessary. The ZTH is crowded most of the time, but service is much better when crowded. Exhaustion tends to set in when the bar finally empties out, so make the most of the crowded hours.

At the end of it all, it is difficult for me to find fault with the Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge. Tony C. really put himself into this bar, and the décor is exquisite. With impeccable service and drinks, it is a wonderful place to get away from the City and seclude yourself amongst the couches, pillars and curtains of the ZTH. Still ranking as one of my favourite venues in London.

Update Late 2014: Since some staff changes, there has been a slight decline in service, a shame considering how the bar excels in other ways.

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

The Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge,

49-50 St John’s Square,
London, EC1V 4JJ

http://www.thezettertownhouse.com/clerkenwell/bar

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour, Chinatown

Type of Bar: Bar/Restaurant, Chinese, Speakeasy, Lounge
Damage£££
Ideal for: Food, Small Groups

 

I do like Opium. But you have to be there at exactly the right time.

There are two floors, both are not always open at the same time, but each feels totally different from the other.

 

In the evenings, the bar can be absolutely empty, and though I do love a good empty bar – Opium’s upper floor is one of those that really needs every seat filled to make it a great experience. Those bizarre 70s grandma’s living room seats need to be hidden from view. Especially when randomly placed beside black leather alcoves. It’s why I prefer to snatch the bar seats, which are in a kitchen setting with wonderfully engaging bartenders.

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I think my issue with the chairs is just personal

The upper floor bar is unnaturally dark, making it reminiscent of the Shochu Lounge at Roka. The best way to enjoy it is to get a reservation for a late Saturday evening, crowded and pigeonholed with a few good friends, with each drink accompanied with the bar’s dim sum menu.

The lower floor, though, has an excellent atmosphere, better lighting. But the bartenders are just as engaging and thoughtful. They’re half the experience here.

 

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The beautiful lower floor bar

Said bartenders are excellent for crafting personal cocktails with good reason. The menu comes with a custom cocktail section, where filling out a little questionnaire on your tastes in flavours and drinks will have them craft a little masterpiece for you. The cocktail list in itself is a treasure for making itself accessible to the less libationary-aware. Other than an ingredient description, each drink is given a three word summary. For example, the Long March (Bombay Sapphire gin, Plymouth Sloe, pomegranate juice, cinnamon and sweet red bean puree) is ‘Long – Complex – Fruity’.

On my first visit, I went straight for the Blind Date: Heaven Hill bourbon, Pedro Ximenez sherry, date puree and szechuan pepper. Definitely an after dinner drink (necessary, following my lunch at the Holborn Dining Room), the intense date flavour might have needed more pepper to balance it, but for the sweet tooth, works perfectly. Perhaps too many ingredients in each cocktail, but I’m willing to let it slide, since they end up working.  The Feather of the Phoenix is an excellently contradictory cocktail: Olmeca Altos Blanco meets blood orange puree and ginger beer in a long drink, topped off with smoked chilli infusion. I needed a bit more bite in mine so asked for more chilli, which makes the drink what it is. It’s up to you to judge whether or not a good drink hinges on one ingredient, but I certainly won’t turn it down.
Maybe I’d be a bit more forgiving if each drink came at 10 pounds instead of 11.50 to 13. Please do not ignore the tea, a great break from a long night out – and hey, no one said you couldn’t add some G to your Tea. A dim sum box comes at about 6.50 to 8 pounds, or grab a platter at 16.

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All in all, besides the peculiar environment, the Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour does a good job as a hidden away den, and certainly makes a much less pretentious alternative to the Experimental Cocktail Club next door that I abandoned because of terrible service. Opium has gone for the speakeasy-but-not-speakeasy feel by simply avoiding the conspicuous bouncer or massive signs – just come in through the Jade Door.

 

Also, for those in the know, query about a certain New Orleans tune, or perhaps an old Soho brothel of the same name that dear Nina Simone crooned about. The waiters will first insist they have no idea what you’re talking about. But at your own risk, Nina did tell us that it brought down the reputation of many of the curious over the years.

Drinks: ***
Atmosphere:  Upper floor: ***, Lower floor: ****
Service: ****

 

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour
15-16 Gerrard St,
London W1D 6JA

http://www.opiumchinatown.com/

Scarfes Bar, High Holborn

Type of Bar: Hotel, Lounge
Damage£££ – ££££
Ideal for: Date, Meetings

 

My friend put it best: The Scarfes Bar looks like the Zetter Townhouse‘s conservative older brother. The design is impeccable, the three major dominating aspects of the room: the enormous fireplace, the mirror above it, and the central chandelier work together instead of clashing in their shameless grandiosity. The dress code for the venue is ‘casual’, so expect to see business meetings or couples coming over from the Holborn Dining Room across the hall.

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Staff and young and snazzy, and take a while getting around the giant room. The cocktail list is short, but off-menu classics can be ordered. Rather unlike the Zetter Townhouse, though, drinks are long and refreshing.

These aren’t usually my style, so I had to keep an open mind when my Seine River Fizz (Grey Goose vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger, lime juice, basil leaves, Fentimans Victorian lemonade – topped with a cap of Elderflower foam) arrived. I was pleasantly surprised that I had actually enjoyed it, although I have to admit that without the elderflower foam, the drink would have lost any and all character. The initial punch of Elderflower really makes the drink what it is. In fact, it is the major hit on the nose, and the flavour for the first half of the drink. The last half certainly has a slight basil flavour, without becoming too green and intense, which might be a good thing. The ginger, though, is barely detectable.

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If there is any unfortunate aspect to anything, is that drinks range between 12.50 and 14.50 pounds. 11 or 12 I would have been happy to pay for my Seine River Fizz – 14.50, not as much. A mate echoed my sentiments on their drinks.

In any case, this beautiful bar’s long drinks and highballs are certainly worth a visit for if that is indeed your favour in drinks, otherwise, I’m afraid I can’t exactly recommend it, not for what they charge. Although I can see myself coming here for a coffee date and to study, with the incredible environment.

I have yet to try the Mirror Bar at the hotel, but have higher hopes for it.

Drinks:**? Perhaps ***?
Atmosphere: *****
Service: ***

 

Scarfes Bar
Rosewood Hotel,
252 High Holborn,
London WC1V 7EN

www.scarfesbar.com/‎