Isabella Sullivan heads down to The London Edition's Punch Room to check out the latest installment in its 'The Five' punch menu
Famed for its sultry atmosphere, dark-panelled interiors, high-brow customers and, of course, unfaltering drinks, the Punch Room at The London Edition has unveiled its latest cocktail compendium, The Five: Volume II.
Upholding the bar's luxurious reputation, the new menu comes in the form of a whimsically illustrated book, bound in racing-green linen, that celebrates the history of punch and its influence on cocktail making through the ages. With 30 drinks on the menu, Five II is not a short read, but it's around for a year, so there's plenty of time to do so.
'We wanted the menu to look distinctively different,' says Lance Perkins, director of food and beverage at the London Edition, 'with the cover, but also when you turn the pages and see there is so much more to it than just a menu.'
The menu, created by bar manager Andy Shannon and head bartender Eric Van Oers, is based on firsts in the world of punch, which is one of the world's oldest and most-drunk libations. A tongue-in-cheek foreword written by War on Terroir's Will McBean sets the tone, leading into five distinct chapters in punch's coming-of-age story: Navel, Coffee House, Caribbean, North America and Modern Chapter.
The menu begins with Navel and explores the origins of its namesake concoction. Drinks such as Grog and Captain Radcliffe Punch are made with ingredients found by the great navel explorers as they circumnavigated the globe, such as nutmeg and citrus fruit. It then shifts its focus to the coffee houses of London, and coffee and tea punches feature, before moving onto rum-heavy Caribbean tipples.
'I dove into the Caribbean as a whole to find out things that were happening when punch was first made,' says Van Oers, who created the recipes for the chapter. 'One of my favourites is the Sorrel Wine Punch. It's based on one of the first recipes for rum infusions, when people were infusing rum to make it more palatable. Rum back in the day wasn't as good as it is now, and they were infusing it with sorrel.'
Five II goes on to look at the punch traditions of North America, before making its way back to today in the Modern Chapter. The latter begins 'if the last time you drank "punch" was in a dorm room at a fresher's week party, odds are it was out of a bright orange bucket and consisted of White Lightning, some WKD Blue, a carton of tropical juice and a reduced-to-clear spirit.' Too true. But that's a far cry from the punches listed on these pages.
'We want a fun bar, we don't want it to seem too stuffy,' says Shannon. 'These are drinks that relate to punch, but in a modern way. There's a short, stirred, drink that is an infusion using milk wash. We're using ingredients that wouldn't usually be associated with punch, like tequilas, and there's also a non-alcoholic punch, as drinking habits have changed.'
In-keeping with modern demands, it's the only section to include a non-alcoholic punch, a medley of Seedlip Spice, anise hyssop tea, lime sherbet and pea and mint cordial.
'It shows the modern style of drinking,’ says Shannon. ‘Quite a few of them are low-abv anyway, [but] there's not a huge amount of demand for non-alcoholic punch here.’ Looking at Five II, we can see why.
A sneaky additional chapter deals with the Classics – established fan favourites on The Punch Room's menu – including its Milk Punch and the famous Edition Punch.
'It felt silly not to mention [the Edition Punch] and put it on the menu, when it's something that we're proud of,' explains Shannon.
The menu took Shannon and Van Oers six months to create. 'We made sure to get our research in, particularity with the historical elements, but we didn't want to obsess over it, we're not historians,' says Shannon. 'We like making nice drinks and looking after people and having good hospitality.'
Shannon's favourite drink is Turning Japanese, a concoction of Portobello Japanese Edition with poppy seed, black sesame seed, sansho pepper, Japanese sencha tea, watermelon, Kamm & Sons, and yuzu juice – a far cry from sickly sweet, fishbowl-style punches.
'It's going against punch being known as a sweet drink, it highlights what we do with Punch on the Road, our punch education sessions,' agrees Perkins. 'People think punch is everything in your liquor cabinet, with fruit juice and a bit of sugar thrown in just to make sure.'
All punches gracing the pages of Five II are also available in sharing style, served in unique vintage vessels, all with their own story and look. Keeping things as clear as the hotel's Clearer Colada, punches are all priced at a standard £14 per serve.