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
Same ethos, new flavours: Whiley & Woods launch latest Scout list
In last week's menu launch investigation, we spent the evening at Marylebone's Zetter Townhouse to try out its new list developed by bartenders Matt Whiley and Rich Woods, as part of their consultancy Weapons & Toys. It seems we just can't get enough of the duo, as our next drinks-list jaunt takes us to Whiley and Woods' east London bar Scout.
Whiley opened Scout on Great Eastern Street in 2017 with a near-religious devotion to locality, foraged ingredients and zero waste. He moved the bar to Hackney's Graham Road in September 2018, and brought on Woods (cocktail veteran of SushiSamba and Duck & Waffle) as a joint owner earlier this year.
They've been toiling away all summer on a new Scout menu. It’s their first as co-owners of the bar, but the list’s ethos is still steadfast in its commitment to sustainability.
The bar uses produce sourced solely from the British isles. At times, this can prove challenging: On our visit, bartender Jake Down tells us he’s been putting together a wine list. ‘Since we’re looking for natural wines produced in the UK, it’s not the easiest task,’ he says, pouring me a glass of Tillingham.
But Scout’s cocktails certainly make it seem easy. Its new menu, titled ‘Ecosystems’, is a 12-strong list divided into three sections. ‘Towns & Cities’ centres on ingredients foraged from London’s green spaces and salvaged from waste; ‘Freshwater & Marine’ boasts drinks inspired by coastal areas; and ‘Forests & Grasslands’ makes the most of ingredients from the country’s green regions.
In ‘Ecosystems’, the Cornerstone is a standout. It’s a golden drink made from sunflower seed, peated whisky, cacao husk and mahonia seed, topped with a rather perfect square of house-made mugwort caramel to nibble on for a sweet contrast between sips of the malty, rich, slightly bitter liquid.
We’re also partial to the Roe-Say in ‘Freshwater & Marine’, a mix of salmon roe distillate, tequila, strawberry, rose and a native wasabi. Pairing the tequila with the distillate lends a jolt of salinity that amplifies the strawberry, and the whole thing is lifted by a spicy wasabi kick.
But for us, the most exciting aspect of the new list is a separate section titled ‘On Skins’. It contains a selection of ferments made using ambient yeast. Each has a smack of kombucha-like funk, but boasts a different flavour profile – our favourites are the Honey + Toast, made with local sourdough for a bit of tang, and Banana + Strawberry, with a Beaujolais-like juiciness and a touch of tropicality.
If the number of glasses drained by the end of our evening are any indication, the first Scout menu from Whiley and Woods is proof that creativity – and drinkability – thrives under limitation.
19.09.2019 – Kate Malczewski
Zetter Townhouse unites two venues through esoteric ingredients
Sometimes you want a no-nonsense drink in a no-frills environment. Other times, you want to sip vodka infused with pink crystals that have been charged under the light of the full moon while sinking into an armchair that can only be described as luxury in furniture form.
For the latter, head to the cosy, slightly over-the-top bars of Zetter Townhouse. The drinking dens at both of the boutique hotel’s locations, one in Clerkenwell and one in Marylebone, have struck up a working relationship with Matt Whiley and Rich Woods, the bartending duo behind consultancy Weapons & Toys and east London bar Scout. Together, they’ve developed a new drinks concept that’s perfect for those feeling a bit #extra.
Clerkenwell and Marylebone boast different menus. Marylebone’s list, Cures & Curiosities, is inspired by the travels of Zetter’s fictional overlord, Uncle Seymour, while Potions & Punches at Clerkenwell is modelled after the holistic remedies of another character, Aunt Wilhelmina.
However, the Zetter team have ensured that the lists complement each other. The cocktails at both bars highlight 10 rather esoteric ingredients: catnip, palo santo, pollen, sandalwood, vetiver, quartz, clary sage, yarrow, St John’s wort and elf oil.
Imbibe headed to Marylebone to get a taste of the concept. With a heavy emphasis on homemade ingredients and botanicals, the menu bears the stamp of Whiley and Woods – though the serves feel much more flamboyant than the offering at sustainability-focused Scout.
They’ve undoubtedly kept Marylebone’s upscale crowds in mind, and each drink is infused with a healthy dose of twee.
The Enchanted Martini, for instance, is a bright-pink mix of distilled yarrow, quince tea kombucha-aromatised wine and blackened lemon vermouth. It’s easy on the eyes, but we imagine drinkers seeking a fruity serve will find its medicinal flavour surprising – we found it rather heavy ourselves.
The Immunity is equally as pink, and much more suited to our palate. With distilled lemon balm pollen gin and Bacchus fumé cordial, its big, elegant, fresh lemon flavour manages to refresh the palate.
But the highlight of the menu is the Healing Punch, a toasted rice milk punch with fig leaf scotch and a palo santo infusion. The toasted rice flavours, so nutty and rich they border on marzipan, are grounded by the earthy undertones of fig leaf. It’s one we’d drink again and again – and we think Zetter’s clientele, craving that signature taste of luxury, will too.
09.09.2019 – Kate Malczewski
The Connaught Bar’s new menu is a masterclass in restraint
‘A person or group who lead in new ideas.’ That is the meaning behind the name of the Connaught Bar’s new cocktail menu, Vanguard – and an exceptionally fitting one at that. Main men Agostino Perrone, Giorgio Bargiani and their band of merry bartenders have spent nine months shaking, sipping and sampling to come up with the 15 serves that celebrate the iconic bar.
We were given the exclusive trade tasting of the new menu. Perrone mixes us one of the bar’s signature Martinis, taking the opportunity to dust off his trademark high-pour skills (‘I’ve still got it!’), before sitting down to walk us through the menu. ‘I wanted to mark our 11th year by celebrating us,’ he explains, gesturing to the surrounding art-deco splendour that has become instantly recognisable to the discerning drinker.
Split into three sections, Vanguard takes inspiration from the bar’s signature drink, the Martini (Enigma), the bar itself (Strata) and the two gates that bookend it (Verve). Each chapter features five cocktails, starting with the booziest and ending with a no-abv serve.
We start proceedings with the star of the Enigma cocktails – the Number 11. All five of the bar’s Martini bitters (cardamom, tonka, ginseng and bergamot, lavender and coriander seeds) are distilled and poured over a hand-cut half-diamond rock of ice. Then, the magic happens. As with the classic Martini, the drink’s creation is done table-side. Unlike the Martini though, the Number 11 involves the use of an aerating machine to produce the drink, with a mixture of the house gin, vodka, Amalfi lemon oil and wine distillate being poured from the device that claims to aerate the liquid as if it were being poured from an 11-storey building.
The result? An extremely clean, balanced drink that, despite its nine ingredients, manages to remain restrained and thoughtful. Unsurprisingly, it screams ‘Connaught Bar’. It’s served in a large coupe, hand-painted by the bar team (using edible paint, they’re done fresh everyday) in the style of Jackson Pollock. The king of spontaneous art, Pollock’s style lends itself well to a drink that marries all of the house Martini’s ingredients – I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a permanent fixture on the menu.
Next – and possibly our favourite of the bunch – is the Amberblack from Strata. It’s a clever and dramatic drink that tells two contrasting stories, much like the juxtaposing elements in the bar’s design (light and dark, curvy and angular, soft and hard furnishings). Arriving in a goblet-style glass which is covered in inky active charcoal, its contents (coconut, coffee, jasmine and aniseed mastiha) are surprisingly well-suited bedfellows, each flavour sitting comfortably and non-combatively with the others.
Perrone’s favourite of the Verve chapter is the Gate No 1, which takes its name and ingredients from one of the two distinctive hand-hammered gates either side of the bar. Specifically, it takes after the left-hand gate, behind which bottles of gin, genever, red wine, vermouth and port are displayed. Together, along with strawberry kombucha, they combine to create a bright, pinky-red long drink that this imbiber found dangerously drinkable, with a surprising hint of breadiness. Perrone can’t help but keep coming back to it. ‘I wanted it to have a note of freshly baked bread,’ he says, miming breaking open a loaf and smelling it. It certainly has that feeling of comfort and familiarity about it, with a touch of the unexpected.
And that’s the feeling I get from the whole of the Vanguard menu. It’s surprising elements are offset by the undeniability of it being crafted by the team behind the Connaught Bar. It’s a masterclass in restraint, innovation and most importantly, flavour.
16.08.2019 – Millie Milliken
Coupette debuts new menu series that rethinks the classics
If Bethnal Green Road was the desert, Coupette would be the mirage at the end of a thirsty traveller’s pilgrimage. Luckily, the latter is not the case. Chris Moore’s bricks-and-mortar destination bar has been winning awards since it opened in 2017, and its new cocktail menu ‘Summer’, the first in a series, will undoubtedly reinforce its reputation as Bethnal Green’s cocktail mecca.
Taking design cues from local sign writer Ged Palmer (he’s responsible for the clean lines and typography on the print menu), the new collection comprises 20 cocktails that showcase Moore’s ability to introduce both new classics (more on them later) and riff on old faithfuls to spark conversation.
First up on Imbibe’s visit was the Imperfect. Ingredients are few (Bombay Sapphire, cocoa wine and truffle vermouth) and on paper made this drinker expect a particularly powerful Martini. However, the cocoa wine brings a smoothness in texture and the truffle sits more on the nose than on the palate. The result? A dangerously smooth, clear concoction that makes for a clean and refreshing aperitif.
Next was the Corn Collins. One of the evening’s favourites, the balance of Woodford Reserve with smoked-corn liqueur, lemon and London Essence soda results in a delicate, pale-yellow liquid that is both sweet (from the corn) and warming – and is topped with a delicious grilled baby corn garnish.
Other standouts are the Bloody Martini (a summery fresh Bloody Mary-inspired serve including Grey Goose, clear tomato and a kick of paprika) and the Rhubarb White Negroni for customers after a light post-prandial nightcap.
Those worried that the new series of menus will exclude the drinks Coupette has become famous for need not worry. Moore has made sure to keep a couple of the bar’s classics on offer – something we were particularly happy about, given that the Champagne Piña Colada is a must try. Made up of Bacardi Blend, agricole, pineapple and coconut sorbet, topped with Moet & Chandon champagne, it’s a smooth, silky off-white indulgence that, topped with crunchy coconut and a white straw, takes the oft tackily garnished classic to a level of unexpected elegance.
And with news that Coupette will be setting up shop in central London in the not-so-distant future, you won’t have to make the pilgrimage out east to get your Colada fix.
09.08.2019 – Millie Milliken
New list at Roka's Shochu Lounge proves creative potential of shochu cocktails
Read the full story here.
Glorious glassware and American history inspire 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
Gymkhana partners with Penhaligon's for perfume-inspired serves
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