When Cottonopolis was announced as the winner of the overall Drinks List of the Year 2018 at Imbibe’s annual awards last October, no one was more surprised than the bar team themselves – they were all outside having a fag, celebrating their Avant Garde Menu of the Year win. They never even considered that they’d take the top prize of the evening too.
For anyone looking at the menu, it’s clear how it triumphed, however. With its bright primary-colour illustrations and quirky cocktails named after and inspired by Japanese idioms, it was original, fun and inspiring.
So it is with great anticipation that the bar’s new menu has just launched, based on the concept of Japanese aesthetics.
The menu is separated into five separate principles, including wabi sabi (acceptance of impermanence and imperfection) and yūgen (a deep awareness of the universe), with three or four drinks dedicated to each principle.
‘We wanted to follow on from last year’s idioms menu, and keep that loose link of Japanese theme that’s at Cottonopolis, but we wanted to avoid things that are overly clichéd,’ said operations manager Gethin Jones when we caught up with him for a chat.
‘Japanese aesthetics is all about appreciating the passage of time and the smaller details in life. We wanted to just create little moments and have people focus on one another and the environment that they’re in. So the drinks aren’t overly garnished, and the way the menu’s written, there’s no hints of complicated shrubs or cordials. The cocktails are listed as ingredients and flavours, so you can just grab a drink and enjoy 20 minutes on your own with a book, or with friends.’
Coming of age
The drinks are subtly linked to the principles, without hitting the customer over the head with them. ‘Wabi sabi teaches you that as you grow old, you celebrate every new wrinkle and every grey hair. All of these wabi sabi drinks have had some ageing, so as a group they work together to show the passage of time and a mindfulness. They’re unshowy. Whereas with yūgen – which means say more by showing less and letting the imagination work – the drink descriptions are perfectly vague,’ he reveals.
Design-wise, the aesthetics menu is a more muted publication than its idiom predecessor, yet still feels like part of the same family, with simple, graphic illustrations in tertiary colours acting as the cornerstone.
And when it came to naming the drinks, Jones has picked the three key flavours in the drink and simply listed them: Tequila, Apricot & Blossoms and Coffee, Pecan & Caramel are two such examples.
‘From a design perspective it was a way for [the customers] to easily pick through a menu,’ Jones says. ‘I made the mistake in the past of making a drink sound approachable and fun, but then it’s a smoky mezcal drink, so you miss the mezcal drinkers, who skip over it from the approachable description, and then the people who do order it don’t like it. We’re trying to address that by naming them quite honestly.’
That honesty has also transferred into the presentation of the drinks themselves. Gone are the tiki cat glasses and golden quince garnishes of last year, and in their place are simple glassware and functional garnishes, with an emphasis on the aroma and mouthfeel of the drink.
It’s a thoughtful, grown-up menu that’s an assured step on from the idioms menu while staying true to the identity of Cottonopolis.
Cottonopolis’ new castle
On top of all this, Jones reveals that the company behind Cottonopolis is opening a new venue in Ancoats, two minutes up the road.
‘It’s an old Victorian pub, a beautiful corner site, and it’s one of the only original buildings still there,’ says Jones. ‘The earliest reference we can find for it is on an OS map from the 1840s, where it’s listed as The Old Edinburgh Castle.’
The venue will still be called The Edinburgh Castle, and it’s pencilled to open on 11 September, boasting two venues: a pub on the ground floor, with 40 seats; and a restaurant on the first floor with 36 covers.
The aim is you won’t be able to walk past that pub without wanting to go in for a quick half on the way home
The restaurant will be accessed through the pub, and will offer a seasonal menu made with herbs and vegetables grown by the executive chef.
‘We’re looking to do something relatively high end, but still fun and relaxed,’ Jones explains. ‘We’re not aiming for a star or anything like that, but we are aiming to deliver a real good quality, modern approach to British food. Mark Farrell is running it – he used to run Epernay, so we’re putting together a solid wine list with a couple of cocktails, but they’ll be bottled and ready to go.’
The pub downstairs is set to have a more worn-in feel in comparison. ‘The pub was gutted in the mid-90s; we’re not looking to make fake pub features, but there will be a marble bar top and lots of mahogany, because it needs to feel like a real pub,’ he says.
‘There’s a lot of new flats being built in the area, and the aim is to make it a local pub in a really cool area. There’ll be good wine, good beer, batched cocktails, and a small pub menu available during the day, a good brunch menu at the weekend and a good Sunday roast. The aim is you won’t be able to walk past that pub without wanting to go in for a quick half on the way home.’