Despite the challenges of Covid-19, bartenders haven't stopped innovating to produce new and exciting cocktail menus. We'll be constantly updating the below with some of the best
Blue Bar at The Berkeley's second iteration of its award-winning Meta Menu lives up to its predecessor – and then some
Last year, the Blue Bar's Meta Menu took Imbibe's overall Drinks List of the Year gong. So we weren't surprised that for its 2020 menu it decided to stick with a good thing and run with Meta Menu 2.0. This time, however, it’s online thanks to Covid, with individual recipe cards that drinkers can take home.
Taking guests' preference of flavour as its starting point, the menu is split into four sections: Fresh, Bubbly, Crisp and Bold. Within each section are four different cocktails, one of which is designed as a 0% abv serve, with an optional booze supplement. As per the first menu, abvs, the best time to drink it (pre-dinner, before/after dinner, all day) and varying flavour notes such as nutty, woody, mineral and earthy give the drinker everything they need to know before they order, presented using pretty illustrations and graphics.
We begin our evening with the gloriously balanced BB 20, a blend of fat-washed vodka, jasmine, peach and acqua de cedro – which is aged in uncharred oak and fast infused using sonic waves – topped with soda. It's been designed especially to celebrate 2020 being the bar's 20th anniversary and is also available to take away.
Then, it's on to the Meta Menu. The most astonishing serve on our visit was the Champagne & Co (pictured) from the Bubbly section, combining Patron XO Cafe, coffee, malt and Laurent Perrier. The team tell me it was the 'most challenging' to get right, but the result is a triumph. Almost a posh Black Velvet (Guinness and Champagne), it's both malty and fresh with the Champagne providing a welcome bite on the palate and a cleansing quality. This is a much softer alternative to the usual post-dinner Espresso Martini, but with all the hallmarks of a classic.
Fresh provides this imbiber with the Peaches & Cream – Michter's Bourbon, peach, rooibos, soda – which is served long with a frozen cream around the glass rim. This clever and subtle way of presenting the 'cream' element of the drink keeps this drink on the right side of refreshing, and makes for an elevated take on a Whisky Highball.
Elsewhere, Bold's Golden Hour is a biscuity celebration of amontillado sherry, calvados (Avallen) and rum (Bacardi 8) with oats and Bittered Sling Kensington Bitters. One of this imbiber's favourites, it’s the sherry that really sings in this short serve and makes for the ideal autumnal post-prandial cocktail. The Pearl, under the Crisp section, is also particularly memorable, combining Patron Silver Tequila, mezcal, yoghurt, St-Germain and orange blossom, with the yoghurt and agave elements proving to be complementary bedfellows.
Overall, this menu is a real champion of strong and pinpointed flavours. It's challenging, intriguing and in some instances comforting. You may not like all of them, but I'd challenge anyone to not find one they love.
29.10.20 – Millie Milliken
Lockdown proved fruitful for Crossroads Bar's new (and first) menu
Bart and Monika Miedeksza opened new Camden bar Crossroads this summer to industry praise. Part of William Borrell's Ladies & Gentlemen portfolio, Crossroads is firmly Bart's proverbial playground with Monika heading up front of house.
Its opening list (on our visit) is the result of months spent growing ingredients and experimenting with them during lockdown. Using the likes of jasmine, bay leaves, thyme and tomatoes, Bart has created shrubs and liqueurs and even eschewed fresh citrus – due to not going shopping that often – in favour of more sustainable acids and vinegars.
The result is eight aesthetically clean and simple, yet technically challenging and intriguing signature cocktails with fun fruit flavours (think banana, cherry, melon and peach), listed with their three main components and a descriptor
Highlights include the Cairo, combining Vestal Vodka, melonade, cold brew Sencha tea, Supasawa, sugar and absinthe. Served refreshingly long, the melon gives this drink its dominant flavour, and is balanced nicely with the Supasawa, while the Sencha tea adds a touch of tannin.
Next up, Remember the Name (pictured above and this imbiber's favourite) is a celebration of cherries, picked from a farm in Enfield farm, and infused in Scotch for 10 days, then covered in water for seven days, strained and carbonated to create a cherry soda. It also comprises cherry-infused Chivas Regal 12yo, steam-extracted cherry cordial, Mancino Chinato and absinthe.
Perhaps one of our favourite homemade ingredients from the bar is its black pepper shrub, which is used in the aptly named Pepper (lead picture, alongside Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond, Mancino Secco and Muyu Vetiver Gris) and gives this cocktail a warming bite.
The overarching theme of all of the cocktails though is Bart and his team's sustainable working practises. From encouraging local residents to swap ingredients for their name on the menu, to using filtered rainwater to grow herbs in the bar. We can't wait to see what they come up with on our next visit.
27.10.20 – Millie Milliken
Artesian is back – and disco drinks are on the menu
Led by bar manager Anna Sebastian and head bartender Marco Corallo, the Artesian team has curated a list of 12 cocktails that celebrate the popular liquids of the disco era (blue curaçao, grenadine and Galliano) while incorporating ingredients that reflect more modern tastes and paired-back presentation. A menu the reflects 'fun and joy, with a touch of glamour' that Sebastian and Corallo wanted to inspire in their guests.
Imbibe headed to The Langham, London, to give the new menu a (ahem) whirl. First up were the Long Island Iced Tea Milk Punch (tequila, vodka, gin, rum amaro, lime, sugar cane, chai tea and milk) and the Harvey Wallbanger (vodka, Galliano, orange cordial and rhubarb wine).
Served short and on the rocks, the former is a delicate and I-promise-I'm-not-drinking-five-spirits-in-one-drink take on the original, with the tannins in the tea and smoothness of the milk taking the edge off the booze hit. The latter is one of this drinker's favourites of the night. Served long and over ice, the sweeter ingredients are offset by the prominent flavour of the rhubarb wine, which also gave the drink a pleasant dryness.
Next up, the Blue Hawaii (blanco tequila, blue curaçao, melon, lime and pineapple) comes frozen and is, wait for it, bright blue in colour. Let's be honest: I ordered it for the Instagram cred (very clever marketing), but the cocktail still came through on the goods – not too sweet, fresh with melon and a bit of fun.
The soufflé-esque Amaretto Sour delivers on the classic flavours and textures with Disaronno and egg white, but the Cherry Heering liqueur adds an unexpected element, while the Cosmopolitan is turned on its head using rye whisky and Cynar, and served in a small ceramic cup, for a grown-up reimagining of Carrie Bradshaw and co's iconic pink drink.
But it was the Grasshopper that leaps above them all (and the team reports we aren't the only ones who picked it out from the crowd). Single malt whisky, creme de menthe, white chocolate and cream and balanced with a real lightness of touch, each flavour coming through one-by-one from the whisky through to the cream, and the addition of dashes of salt for balance.
The team will also be changing up the menu on a weekly basis – a more sustainable approach and a departure for the bar which is more used to running menus for months at the time – as well as keeping the majority of the spirits' brand names off the menu.
04.09.20 – Millie Milliken