Taking over the bar at City Social was the occasion for Tim Laferla to give the menu a little bit of a shake-up, and half of the drinks were changed before the festive season. That's a process made particularly delicate by the nature of the venue, as it's part of Jason Atherton's The Social Company group, and is situated in the City.
'We sell a lot of classics,' says bar manager Laferla, 'about 30-40% of drinks ordered. It's down to the clientele we have. We go through more Old Fashioneds and Martinis than in any bar I've ever worked in.'
This influence is obvious in the menu, which starts with a list of G&T twists, marrying various gins with Fever-Tree tonic water along with other ingredients to add a bit of interest – absinthe, aquavit, pine needles or Islay whisky drops for example.
With most of the bar's customers knowing precisely what they want, nothing's left to chance with the 15 signature cocktails. Thought is given to the way drinks read on paper – from the name to the ingredients listed. 'It's as important as the taste,' says Laferla. 'Especially with ingredients such as syrups: we'll write "camomile", not camomile syrup.'
This menu also marks a change of focus with the drinks' ingredients, with many more ingredients now made by the bar itself, and a close link to the kitchen allowing for a little 'out there' garnishes. All this has been worked out to take less manual time however, and all the prep for the week can be done on a Monday. In terms of the taste, Laferla says 'it's not just about the flavours. Michelin-starred restaurants all focus on textures, but a lot of great bars don't think about the drink's texture or garnish. We want to create that anticipation feeling.'
One drink that embodies this is the Bright Spark, which is a bright blue colour and has a 'high voltage' sign that catches everyone's eye and has proved a hit with punters. It comprises gin, elderflower and camomile, plus a tingly szechuan button syrup that adds an extra dimension to the drink, and blue curaçao for the colour.
Shison Fire, an Asian-inspired twist on a Margarita, is another popular one. Its black lava salt rim makes it recognisably Margarita-like, and the apple and wasabi purée – an ingredient that came from the kitchen – adds an interesting umami element to a still easy-drinking cocktail.
Garnish: Shiso leaf
Method: Shake all ingredients with cubed ice. Strain into a black salt-rimmed glass over cubed ice. Garnish.
50ml Olmeca Altos Plata
20ml wasabi and green apple purée*
15ml shiso syrup**
*To make the purée: Peel, core and dice 1kg of green apples. Vacuum pack the apples and sous-vide in a water bath at 80°C until apples soften. Remove cooked apples from bag and purée with a blender. Reduce the apple purée in a pan until the pureé thickens. Blend in 22g of wasabi paste.
**To make the syrup: Add 100ml water, 200g caster sugar and 4-5 shisho leaves to a pan and bring to the boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, gently simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and refrigerate.