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
Glorious glassware and America’s rich history make for evocative serves at The Stafford's American Bar
Anyone who’s frequented the memorabilia-laden bar at The Stafford hotel will not be surprised at the theme for its latest cocktail menu. The American Bar has had a long-term relationship with our transatlantic friends, and the 16 cocktails that make up The American Dream menu bring together the country’s most historic moments and the people who made them happen – with some serious glassware along the way.
Imbibe began at the very start. A nod to those who braved the wagon trails of the Wild West to find a better life, The Frontier takes its name from the hallowed area west of the Mississippi River. In appearance, it’s an unassuming little number, but – not unlike the saloon dwellers of the Old West – it’s got an edge. Corte Vetusto Mezcal Espadin is the dominant, smoky flavour; the Hendrick’s Gin infused with jalapeño gives it some pleasing heat; and pomegranate and lime juice act as a welcome sweetener. Coming in a short trumpet-style glass wrapped with twine and garnished with wheat, it not only looks the part, but it drinks as you’d imagine the Wild West to taste, making it Imbibe’s drink of the evening.
A very close second is the Lady Liberty. Its ingredients (Hendrick’s Gin, Solerno liqeur, St. Germain Liqueur, Green Chartreuse, kaffir lime and lime juice) pay homage to the partnership between France and America in building the famous green woman who watches over New York Harbour, combining to create a drink that’s light, refreshing and cleansing. What turned heads as it made its way to our table though is its aesthetic: the almost neon greeny-blue liquid is held in a glass that elegantly emulates the torch held by the Statue of Liberty.
There are two champagne cocktails out of the 16 drinks on the menu: The 49er and The Edison. The former, named after the year of the Gold Rush, features the oh-so-trendy ingredient kombucha. It was this imbiber's first time drinking kombucha in a champagne cocktail, and its subtle earthiness gave the drink much-needed depth. The latter is served in a long-stem trumpet flute (a nod to Edison’s invention of the gramophone) while its bright yellow tint symbolises his other invention – the light bulb. A riff on a French 75, the addition of lemon sherbet gives an otherwise classic cocktail some unexpected cheekiness.
While most of the menu is cleverly subtle in its presentation, a select few take theatricality a little further. Most intriguing was The Raven. Named after Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, ingredients are minimal on paper (The One whisky infused with peanut butter, maple syrup and chocolate bitters) except the bitters are served in an ink pot with a quill for guests to add as many – or as little – as they like. We preferred the more less-is-more presentation approach of the rest of the menu, but let’s be honest, a few props never hurt anyone. And besides, doesn’t the American Dream promise to make life ‘better, rich and fuller for everyone’? Add a generous serving of the house crab doughnuts, and we think that that this menu more than fulfills that prophecy.
08.07.2019 – Millie Milliken
Frenchie creates a sextet of cocktails to take guests on Un Tour de France
Creating a menu based on French regions at a restaurant with the word ‘French’ in its name may sound a tad – well – pedestrian. Luckily, the team behind the bar have managed to produce a level of quality in this capsule collection of standalone cocktails, that the concept plays second fiddle to the drinks themselves.
The six regions in question are Normandie, Provence, Valle de la Loire, Cognac, Pays Basque and Alsace, with each cocktail created to reflect the flavours of each area. Designed to be ordered as aperitifs and digestifs, the drinks are loose riffs on more classic serves such as Martinis, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.
Of the six, three really stood out on Imbibe’s visit. At the top of the menu, Provence is a twist on the classic French aperitif, pastis. With a base of Henri Bourdouin Pastis, additions of apple juice, yuzu and lime bitters give it a citrusy freshness, which is strongly matched with smoky cardamom on the nose and a pleasingly unusual vegetal hit of Chartreuse Elixir on the finish.
Next up, Valle de la Loire is a pretty, pink and peppery aperitif that struck this imbiber as the alternative to a classic Martini. Jos Nusbaumer Framboise gives it a strong taste of raspberry while the Kummel Wolfschmidt liqueur gives a pleasant texture to an otherwise thin serve. The rose and timut bitters are what gives this drink its charm though, giving it a mix of floral and peppery notes.
Of the three though, it’s the Alsace that seems most likely to become a signature of Frenchie. It’s a riff on an Espresso Martini – but better. Fair Vodka, Cacao Liqueur and Café Liqueur are mixed with Kirsch Cherry Eau de Vie and Ferdinand’s Cherry Bitters to create a Black Forest gateau-esque post-prandial indulgence, topped with cherry and coffee foam and hit of bright red powder. We’d take a one-way ticket to Alsace for it.
14.05.2019 – Millie Milliken
The team at JKS Restaurants (of Trishna and Brigadiers fame) is no stranger 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