Short-but-sweet leaflets, lengthy manuals, decks of cards – cocktail menus come in many forms. These are the latest lists to make their way onto the UK bar scene
If you’ve had the pleasure of sinking into the plush banquettes of Punch Room at the London Edition Hotel, you may find it difficult to remember the time when punch was a precarious prospect, the dregs of various liquor bottles sloshed together at a house party for optimal lubrication. Since its opening in 2013, Punch Room has reminded the London cocktail scene that punch is a drink style to be respected – and one that allows for serious innovation.
The hotel bar’s new menu, dubbed The Five Volume III, continues along these lines. Like past menus, it comes in the form of a sturdily bound book. It boasts a foreword by Davide Segat, Punch Room’s director of bars, and a playful introduction to each section penned by War on Terroir’s Will McBean.
But while Volumes I and II tapped into rather straightforward themes – the five ingredients of punch and five key chapters in the drink’s history, respectively – this latest list takes a more esoteric approach.
Each of its sections are themed around one of the five classical elements: earth, water, fire, air and aether. Bartenders Simone De Luca, Davide Leanza and Edoardo Bracci, along with bar manager Andy Shannon, developed the drinks, playing with different associations to craft the 25 elemental cocktails (a final section of Punch Room classics brings the serve count up to 30).
Imbibe was immediately drawn to the ‘Fire’ section, which goes far beyond adding a bit of chilli in the mix and calling it a day. For instance, Maillard – a cocktail named after the chemical reaction that occurs as food browns during cooking – marries Fortaleza Tequila, agave syrup, cocoa husk, Muyu Jasmine Liqueur and pistachio cream. It’s luxurious, warming and rich, and the deep flavour of roasted pistachios makes it clear why the drink is grouped in ‘Fire’.
Another winning serve, also from the ‘Fire’ section, is Fire Star, which bartender Davide Leanza told us was inspired by the diet that NASA has developed for its astronauts. ‘It’s a vegan diet, with lots of vegetables and foods like corn,’ he said. The drink mixes Martini Bitter, Martini Rubino, Mellow Corn Whiskey, Wild Turkey Rye, red pepper syrup and hibiscus tea for a vegetal, boozy trip that did have a little spacey by the time we saw the bottom of the glass.
But our favourite was the Canadian Arctic Punch, tucked away in the ‘Water’ chapter, with Da Mhile Seaweed Gin, cloudberry liqueur, lemon sherbet, green tea, lemon juice, ambergris and Ruinart Brut, and a nori garnish. It was delightfully fizzy, with all the moreishness of a soda fresh from the fountain, herbaceous sophistication and balanced brininess.
25.04.19 – Kate Malczewski
Gymkhana and Penhaligon’s celebrate the tastes and scents of India
The team at JKS Restaurants (of Trishna and Brigadiers fame) are no strangers to garnering a following of well-heeled, ‘I-tasted-it-first’ customers. So it’s no surprise that they have enlisted the help of some high-calibre brands to partner with for this cocktail season. Perhaps the most exciting is at Gymkhana, where four new cocktails have been created around four fragrances by perfume powerhouse Penhaligon’s.
Each served with a scent blotter, the cocktails are meant to be tasted alongside the smell of their corresponding scent, and are introduced by the team (in elaborate, story-telling style) with tales that nod to life in India – from journeys through the Mahoraja’s flower garden (the Champagne Blossom paired with the Vaarda scent), to the smell of fresh rain on soil (the Rum & Rain paired with the Agarbathi scent), or ‘petrichor’, to use the technical term.
Of the four serves, it is City of Joy that surprises the most. Paired with Paithani (which combines the smells of cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper), it is meant to evoke the calm of Kolkata street markets and mixes Amrut Indian single malt whisky, Buffalo Trace, apple and masala chai with the clever addition of clarified milk. The latter ingredient is what makes it so intriguing – its silky, luxurious texture is juxtaposed with its clarity and the result is something warming and clean at the same time.
But A Passage to India, which is paired with Lothair perfume featuring notes of cedarwood, wenge and ambergris (a substance produced in the stomach of whales), is perhaps the most complete for Imbibe. It tells the story of the India pale ale journey and blends Johnny Walker Gold, Cocchi Americano, pineapple and Citra hops to evoke a taste of the sea. It also comes with the instruction of our bartender to ‘first smell the perfume, taste the drink, then bite the oyster leaf garnish’ – an all-round experience which delivers a subtle taste of the sea.
23.04.19 – Millie Milliken
Spice-led ingredients and DIY highballs at Kanishka
When chef Atul Kochhar opened his latest venture Kanishka this year, he was joined by a head bartender who knows what he’s doing with the flavours of north-east India. Cinnamon Kitchen alumni Nick Smith has joined the team and created a cocktail menu that draws inspiration from the spices, ingredients and techniques often relegated to the kitchen.
Perhaps the most obvious – and one of Imbibe’s favourites – is the Ingrita. It comprises a shot of Durrembes Oaxaca Joven Mezcal served alongside a spiced tomato broth, made with pan-fried tomatoes, cumin, coriander, fennel, black pepper and chilli, which is then blended and left to hang in a muslin cloth. The result is a seriously smoky and spicy riff on a Bloody Mary.
The fruits of India have also played a role in Smith’s creations (he’s looking to green mango and cantaloupe for his summer menu). The Roast Pineapple Rum Punch is short and surprisingly not too sweet – thanks to the roast pineapple juice being blended with the char created during roasting. But it’s the Roast Banana Old Fashioned that topped the list for us: the banana, roasted on the kitchen’s tandoor, gave it a pleasingly thicker texture that married well with the cinnamon, pecan bitters and maple.
One of the menu’s headline offerings is Kanishka’s World of Imagination, which allows guests to make their own highballs. ‘I love the work that the guys at Crazy Company do, so I have worked with its founder Bruce Nagra to create a series of distillates,’ says Smith. Using a base of gin or whisky and a soda of their choice, guests can choose from decidedly savoury distillates such as black cardamom, turmeric, lapsang and ghee.
The other headliner is the 50-strong whisky list. Something that Smith has been wanting to do for a long time, it mixes spirits from Speyside, the Highlands, the Lowlands, Islay, Island and Campbeltown, to Japan, Australia and, of course, India. We hear Kochhar is created a single malt of his own in the not-too-distant future, too.
17.04.19 – Millie Milliken
Madcap, art-inspired serves at 100 Wardour St
Wasn’t it Aristotle who said that genius and madness go together like gin and tonic? We thought so.
The bar team at 100 Wardour St must also be acquainted with this famous sentiment. Their new cocktail menu, Creative Disorders, explores the imagination and tumultuous psychology of renowned artists.
The list was developed by the venue’s head mixologist, Federico Pasian, and bar manager Marco Sangion. Both spend most of their time running the show at Quaglino’s, another of restaurant group D&D London’s venues.
‘Federico worked on developing the flavour profiles of the drinks, and I mostly looked at the design and composition of the menu,’ Sangion told Imbibe.
And the design is something to behold. Inspired by a Pantone colour wheel, the menu is comprised of a series of cards, each listing a serve, its ingredients and a portrait of the artist that inspired it. ‘We wanted to incorporate the art idea into the form of the menu,’ said Sangion.
Then there’s the drinks themselves. Each card is colour-coded to represent its drink’s ‘fruity’, ‘sweet’ or ‘sour’ flavour profile. Unsurprisingly, the cocktails live up to these descriptors: Like a Virgin is a flirty Madonna-inspired serve with Ketel One Vodka and big strawberry flavour; La Havana, modelled after Ernest Hemingway, is a mouth-puckering riff on a Daiquiri with rum, coconut, mint, cacao and lime.
But a few of the drinks deliver even more than their labels promise. Splash It is a twist on a Pornstar Martini garnished with bitters and coffee grounds for a Jackson Pollack-esque appearance, and we were surprised to find that the simple addition of a sprinkling of coffee adds impressive complexity to the drink.
Another standout was Cubism – we’re not sure if it was just the sheer quantity of booze in the glass, but the combination of Bulleit Bourbon, Hennessy Cognac, Diplomatico Rum and a kiss of Fernet did seem to capture the surrealism of Salvador Dali.
But the menu’s divisive showstopper was the drink inspired by Beethoven. Called Composition, it brings together two classic cocktails in one unlikely serve: a Piña Colada and a Negroni. The former comes in a stemless glass, the latter in a beaker rested on top. The idea is to pour the Negroni into the Piña Colada to your desired taste, creating an Instagrammable moment in the process.
We were, admittedly, more than a little sceptical at first. Would our desired taste allow us to mix the two? Could the creaminess of the Pina Colada work with the bitter slap of the Negroni? Happily, we found that it did – the combination created a rich after-dinner drink that was both moreish and fun.
100 Wardour St’s new menu is available from 15 April.
10.04.2019 – Kate Malczewski
American Bar unveils song-inspired serves and playlist
The Savoy has a musical legacy that’s hard-rivalled in London’s hotel world, so it’s no surprise that its legendary American Bar has drawn on this theme to create a new menu. The Savoy Songbook, as it’s called, is, however, full of surprises.
Input from the bar team, as well as from the venue’s in-house musicians, has been spearheaded by head bartender Maxim Schulte and director of bars, Declan McGurk. The result? Twenty characterful and vastly different serves, each taking its name from a memorable line in one of the most popular songs played at the bar, accompanied by one-off illustrations.
Both the classics and the more contemporary song choices have inspired equally thought-provoking cocktails. Love Thrill, from 1920s love song ‘It Had to be You’, features classic components (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Tio Pepe Fino Sherry and Cocci Americano) alongside unexpected elements of texture and bite (banana and a pickled fig garnish).
Go Go Go is a tribute to Amy Winehouse and her masterstroke ‘Rehab’. Patrón Silver Tequila, kumquat, lime, mango and passionfruit cordial come with the texture of avocado and a hit of IPA beer. It’s served unfussily, with just a red powder garnish – no doubt a hint at the singer’s red-lipstick aesthetic.
But it’s the Radio Hurricane that stands out on the already strong menu: ‘now that’s a f***ing drink’, remarks one imbiber. We partly have Nashville’s Kings of Leon to thank – their song ‘Reverend’ is the inspiration. The rest of the responsibility belongs to the American Bar’s team, who have deftly delivered a serve of punchy-yet-smooth Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Pedro Ximénez sherry, chestnut liqueur and Cocchi Savoy Dry Vermouth.
As well as some of the drinks themselves, the stories behind the cocktails are revelatory. One cocktail in particular, Playing in the Stars, pays homage to The Moonwalk, a cocktail created in 1969 by then-head bartender Joe Gilmore in honour of the astronauts who landed on the moon. He sent a portion to each of the crew at NASA – the thank-you letter from Neil Armstrong still sits in the Savoy Museum.
And if that’s not enough, guests can download live versions of all the songs on a Spotify playlist, recorded by the American Bar’s resident piano player, Jon Nickel.
09.04.2019 – Millie Milliken