Mix it up: Absinthe cocktail is cultural gem in heart of Mayfair

Philip Salter
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OLD HABITS die hard. But after more than a decade in London, I’ve finally managed to offload most of the dingy pubs, sleazy bars and uninspiring restaurants that I frequented when I first landed in the capital. It’s time you did the same. Let those dodgy establishments serving stale beer and saccharine cocktails slip into distant memory, and exercise willful amnesia towards those restaurants where you’ve been ordering the same boring thing for years. It’s time for an upgrade.

Britain’s national dish is as changeable as our climate – but the main contenders for the title have to be: the roast, fish and chips and curry. London boasts plenty of gastropubs to get a good roast and most people know a fish and chip shop that passes muster. But finding a place that serves decent Indian food can be tricky. And the most famous place for it – Brick Lane – is, in my experience, unreservedly awful. The final straw came when a near-teetotal friend was left reevaluating her food in the gutter following a particularly awful meal.

I soon learnt that the less fashionable area of East Ham is London’s Mecca (or Varanasi, if you prefer) for Indian cuisine. It’s a little out of the way but, for compensation, the food is so cheap that it’s like stepping into the land that inflation forgot.

Food is all well and good, but you’re not going to be able to get a decent cocktail for love nor curry in East Ham. Best stick to the lassi. Thankfully, there is a place where you can get the best of all possible worlds: Gymkhana. It’s a tad more expensive than East Ham, but it’s equally good value.

Gymkhana has opened up in Mayfair, which has to be one of the toughest places to compete for food and cocktails: just consider the trinity of The Dorchester, The Berkeley and The Connaught. But Gymkhana brings something new to the table: sumptuous Indian food alongside genuinely innovative cocktails.

And you don’t need to stray from East Ham’s lassis – in fact, they’ve got the Flutterby Lassi which is laced with absinthe and can be matched with the food. The absinthe adds flavor but doesn’t dominate. It tastes fresh and palate-cleansing with all the benefits of gentle inebriation. In fact, all the cocktails are worth trying (and I’ve tried pretty much all of them). The thing about any cuisine that’s not your own though, is that you’re always wondering what a native might think. So following my initial thoughts, I frog-marched an Indian friend to try it out. She confirmed my admiration: a cultural gem.


3 dill sprigs
2cm skinless cucumber
35ml Butterfly Boston absinthe
10ml lime juice
20ml sugar syrup (gomme)
2 spoons of yoghurt

Muddle dill and cucumber
Pour all other ingredients into shaker
Shake and double strain
Serve in a port wine glass and garnish with scrolled skin of cucumber and a sprig of dill