F Scott Fitzgerald did it for me. He immortalised the mint julep in the Great Gatsby and ignited an ongoing appreciation for the craft of the cocktail. This may have been the turning point where I realised there was more to cocktails than kahlua and milk, and that the trusty barometer of sophistication was not a screwdriver.
While the julep in Gatsby never actually gets made (a telling metaphor for the unfulfilled relationship between Gatsby and sweet-heart Daisy), the ingredients are all carefully considered: the bottle of whiskey, the bucket of ice, the crushed mint – all waiting to be crafted into the elixir to cool on the hottest day of the year. Surely all they needed was a damn good bartender to make it for them, and Daisy and Gatsby would have been well on their way to happy coupledom.
Cocktails have had a resurgence of late, and are truly surpassing the wonderful concoctions of the prohibitive 1920s. With the influence of ambassadors such as Dick Bradsell bringing the Bramble and Espresso Martini to the world, and speakeasies and mixology bars springing up like crocuses, cocktails in the capital have never been better. Think Hix bar’s Nick Strangeway and his penchant for the medieval, Tony Conigliaro’s vintage seasonals from 69 Colebrooke Row in Angel, and Tristan Stephenson’s molecular mixes in his speakeasy Purl.
So, what are London’s signatures? Frozen margaritas may well have their place, but it’s not here. We talk to the crafters – the geniuses behind the drinks – to celebrate London Cocktail week, which runs until 16 October. We say it’s a great excuse to revisit old and new favourites so here’s a selection of drinks we think you should know how and – crucially – where to order.
London Cocktail Week runs until 16 Oct. Register for a wristband at www.londoncocktailweek.com to receive discounted cocktails in over 100 bars. Note: the cocktails featured have been specially chosen for City A.M. and are not part of the £4 list.
WORSHIP STREET WHISTLING SHOP | 63 WORSHIP STREET, EC2A 2DU
RADIATION AGED COCKTAIL, £12
This Dickensian gin den plays host to a gothic laboratory. Phosphoric acid and pure caffeine sit happily next to orange bitters, soda and dusty 100-year-old gins. Ryan Chetiyawardana (pictured) is head bartender and takes a reassuringly scientific approach to create the menu. The Radiation Aged Cocktail contains rum, Campari, Dubonnet and Absinthe. So far so good. But add chip pan bitters and irradiate it (I know, do you wish you paid more attention in chemistry now?), and the result is a smooth, mellow pink cocktail with the most extraordinary texture that looks as thin as water but tastes cream-rich. Given the strength and flavours that go in, what you don’t expect is such a drinkable result. If only chemistry GCSE had been as fun as this.
WHAT NOT TO ORDER
A mojito – there’s no mint in the house.
LUTYENS | 85 FLEET STREET, EC4Y 1AE
LUTYENS MARTINI, £9.50
Ordering a martini can be perilous. Gin or vodka? Dry or extra dry? Shaken or stirred? Lutyens’ head bartender, Julian De Feral, decodes it all for us and distils the decision into the “yes” Martini – the drink you want to say “yes” to after a hard day at work. His Martini uses both gin (Tanqueray 10) and vodka (Grey Goose). And this is the City, so here comes the bling. The vermouth is Martini Gold from Dolce & Gabbana, which is thrice the price of regular Martini, made golden from an infusion of saffron. Stirred over ice, the result is a sweet-dry specimen, a drinkable beast at 25-35 per cent dilution. Served with a twist of lemon zest and silky Sicilian Nocellara olives in a shot glass on the side, which you can spear with your gold Dolce & Gabbana cocktail stick.
A watermelon martini because according to Julian, it’s “not a Martini”.
RIDING HOUSE CAFÉ | 43-51 GREAT TITCHFIELD STREET, W1W 7PQ
VICAR’S TEA PARTY, £14.50 (serves two)
Head barman Artur Dogiel knows good vodka. Not only is he Polish (which means he has the inside track on Poland’s 1,200 different vodkas), but he has also spent five years at the Groucho Club before joining the team at the Manhattan-esque Riding House Café. The signature cocktail, which brings to mind frisky clergymen, delights and surprises. Ordering a Vicar’s Tea Party (“an afternoon tea with a wink,” says Artur), will result in the appearance of a steaming teapot. I don’t want to give too much away, because half the fun is in the surprise, but I’ll guarantee, you’ll not look at Earl Grey in the same way again. Special mention must go to the dessert cocktail Tundra, which Artur created after browsing through his wife’s pastry book.
A toffee vodka. Unless it’s made in-house, flavoured vodka is a no-no.
QUO VADIS | 26-29 DEAN STREET, W1D 3LL
I believe it’s natural to be smug when ordering a Negroni, as a well-made one is the bartenders’ drink of choice. The sunset aperitif of bitter Campari, red vermouth and gin is a taste of Italian sophistication, and masculine in its rock glass. Ondrej Pospichal, head bartender at Quo Vadis, makes his with Antica Formula – a speciality red vermouth with origins in Turin – that sweetens the drink, although if he were making it for himself, he would use Punt e Mes, which is also used at the Ivy. His gin of choice is Beefeater, although Sipsmith or the niche gin Oxley is pulled out for special occasions. After a stir with ice, he pours the mix over a block of ice in each glass, to ensure minimum dilution, so that the first sip is just like the last.
A passionfruit or an apple Martini.