London has no shortage of cocktail bars – but sometimes you’re looking for something that little bit out of the ordinary to really make your taste buds come to life. Well, London will oblige on that front too.
Once in a while, you come across a cocktail bar that rips up the rule book, ignores the classics and comes up with something rather brilliant in the process. From cocktails served in giant conch shells to ones that come in their very own Air Mail envelope, it’s time to hunt out some of London’s most unusual cocktails.
Holy Smoke at Disrepute
Who doesn’t love a cocktail that comes with more than its fair share of fanfare? Half of the fun of the Holy Smoke cocktail at Disrepute (one of my favourite bars in Soho) is the presentation.
The cocktail comes to the table secreted under a bell jar that’s filled with smoke – the lid is lifted as it arrives at the table, enveloping you in a fog of smokiness that is the perfect segue into drinking the cocktail (which features some deliciously smoky mezcal) itself.
Away from Holy Smoke, the Disrepute (D.R.P to those in the know) menu is filled with innovative libations that stand out as some of London’s best. Not to mention the fabulous Mad Men-style interior to go with.
Where to Find it: Disrepute Soho
Château de Saumur at Oriole
Oriole is one of my favourite bars in London. Created by the same team behind the world-famous Nightjar (more on that anon), Oriole is, IMHO, even better than its sibling bar. Tucked away down a flight of stairs underneath the unlikely setting of Smithfield Market, it’s a cocktail-lover’s dream.
The cocktail list is more like a bible than a list – even so, the Chateau de Saumur stands out. A smooth, almost buttery drink with an eclectic ingredients list that features Champagne, cocoa butter, peach blossom and Hennessey – it doesn’t sound like it should work… but it does.
Where to Find it: Oriole Bar
Air Mail in Cocktail Trading Co
Of all the many eclectic and unusual drinks you find in London, the Air Mail cocktail at Cocktail Trading Co isn’t one you are likely to forget in a hurry.
Served up by one of Shoreditch’s coolest bars, the Air Mail flies over to your table (OK, is brought over by a member of the staff) in its very own old-school Air Mail envelope. Open the envelope to reveal a bottle containing the cocktail itself – after which it’s simply a matter of pouring it out into the accompanying glass, kicking back and taking the time to enjoy.
Where to Find it: Cocktail Trading Co
Hunny Pot at The Blind Pig
This little piggy went to market, this little piggy ended up being a very tasty cocktail in Jason Atherton’s The Blind Pig cocktail bar. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Not quite, but it should be.
The Hunny Pot is one of the more unusual drinks on The Blind Pig’s menu – an ode to Winnie the Pooh’s insatiable love of honey, the cocktail contains mead (honey liqueur, Bacardi oro, cider brandy, honey, orange blossom and honeycomb – yet steers away from being too sweet. Still not convinced? It comes in its own terracotta vassal marked hunny – now all you have to do is pretend that you’re Pooh Bear and the effect is complete.
Where to Find it: The Blind Pig, Soho
Beyond the Sea at Nightjar
Nightjar have taken their inspiration from the sea for this rather unusual cocktail… and they aren’t afraid to show it. How many cocktails can you name that turn up in a huge conch shell? Then there’s the challenge of actually drinking your drink (turns out that sipping from a conch can go wrong if you don’t get the balance right and it *may* end up down your top).
Perils of drinking aside, the mixologists at Nightjar have gone out on a limb on this one – it’s totally paid off of course. You don’t get a reputation as one of the best bars in London without knowing your way around a flavour or two.
Curious to know what’s in it? Gin Mare, oyster leaves, sherry, white grapefruit juice, sugar, yuzu bitters and sea plankton air. It’s like the cocktail equivalent of eating an oyster, fresh from the sea but without the slippery texture that puts some people off (for the record, not me, I love eating oysters). A facefull of ocean breeze and kelp with a boozy hit to round things off and not like anything you’ve had before.
Where to Find it: Nightjar, Shoreditch
Up in Smoke at Nine Lives
Another smoky one, but along a completely different track to the one we started with at Disrepute, the Up in Smoke at Nine Lives is smoother, fruitier, yet no less tasty tipple. The premise is simple. You take an old classic (in this case, the Whisky Sour – you can’t get much more classic than that) and you make a few tweaks – some small and some large… until you come up with the perfect sip. That’s how I assume the process goes anyway (I’m good at drinking cocktails, not making them).
The cocktail was created by guest consultant Karen Grill, who uses Glenfiddich and the unctuous richness of Lagavulin (along with a garnish of caramelized pineapple) to transform the old standard into something special.
Where to Find it: Nine Lives Bar
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Guest post by Julianna Barnaby at The Discoveries Of. Images copyright Julianna, used with permission.