Thursday, 28 October 2010

69 Colebrooke Row, Angel

69 Colebrooke Row
N1 8AA

Kina Lillet

A bad start.

The first time I passed through the unassuming glass doors at 69 Colebrooke Row was for a rendez-vous with an old flame.  I was reluctant to see him again, given the amusingly disastrous nature of our split, but consented provided that he agreed to the following terms: 1) not a word about our relationship would pass his lips and 2) we met at Colebrooke Row.

An amusing story.

I hadn’t even had a chance to digest my surroundings when he began to proffer a post-mortem relationship analysis and apology.  Needless to say, I wasn’t interested and so for him, the evening ended badly, early, and in floods of tears.  I, on the other hand, parked myself at the diminutive bar and began to drink my way through the entire menu.  Though I didn’t make it quite to the end that first evening, I’ve subsequently sipped every drink on the menu.

There’s something about a lone lady sitting at the bar that softens the heart of even the steeliest of bartenders, so I was well looked after.  But it wasn’t until I proved my dedication to the palette by deducing that the orange blossom flavouring used in their Almond Ramos – a crazy concoction based on the Ramos gin fizz but made with orange blossom and almond, thickened to a whipped cream consistency with nitrous oxide canisters – was the same flavouring used in Ladurée’s delicious orange blossom macaroons, that the world of Tony Conigliaro was my oyster. Well, almost. Due to teething problems with the fabrication of the shells, I didn’t actually get to sample Tony’s take on the Prairie Oyster, but it sounded inspired: a tomato sphere “yolk” floating in a spiced vodka cocktail, slurped down all in one go.

To compensate for the sheer awfulness of regaling me with tales of such marvels without actually allowing me to taste one, my friendly bartender pulled a bottle from behind the bar and whispered, “you must try this”. “This” was one of the most intense flavours to ever pass my lips: a house-distilled horseradish vodka.  It was like drinking liquid wasabi. Colebrooke Row uses this essence of horseradish to construct the definitive Bloody Mary.  And I know my Bloody Marys. The composite parts are arranged neatly in front of me – the horseradish vodka, house made celery salt, house bitters and an incredibly potent black pepper tincture – before being mixed with thick tomato juice. Like a puppy is not just for Christmas, a CR Bloody Mary is not just for brunch.  This drink is far too dangerous for Eggs Florentine.

While the menu changes seasonally, staples remain: CR’s take on Campari and Soda adds a dash of grapefruit bitters and their Bellini pairs green apple puree with almond blossom and prosecco. One of my favourite drinks on the menu’s current incarnation, the Spitfire, is made with CR house Cognac and Crème de Peche.  It drinks like a smoky rainbow. Sounds ludicrous. Tastes delicious.

Sitting at this bar, you really come to appreciate the theatrics of good cocktail making. The dry ice martini is particularly diverting. On a more recent trip, my companion and I went out for a cigarette and came back to find our drinks overflowing with smoke onto the bar.  It’s difficult to remember what they tasted like, to be honest. I was far too excited by the curlicues of smoke running through my fingers.

While I haven’t perched at every bar in London nor supped every cocktail in the Big Book of Booze, I have done enough of both to know that 69 Colebrooke Row is something special.

A happy ending, then.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Zetter, Clerkenwell

The Zetter
St John's Square
86-88 Clerkenwell Road

Jerry Boam

Regular readers of New London Cocktail Review will doubtless be aware of my passion for the Negroni. Whilst our erstwhile founder Kina Lillet considers it dull – and in fact lambasted me for my stubborn insistence on drinking nothing but Negronis on our recent trip to Hix – I think perhaps she may be a little blinkered. I mean sure, a cocktail can be an adventure, but one needn't be Edmund Hilary every day of one's life. Must one?

No, the Negroni is a simple pleasure: a simple, seriously alcoholic pleasure, and one that's been my drink of choice since birth. It's in the Boam blood. Great Uncle Boozy Boam (Marylebone branch) is famed for his frankly intimidating take on the Italian classic. Or was – a life of sauce-fuelled indolence has left him guzzling Special Brew on his death bed. 'Tis a fate I hope we all can aspire to.

Anyway, the point here is that, done properly, the Negroni is a thing of great subtleties. Crisp, bitter and persistently ginny, it's a timeless medicine for the gentleman of refinement. Imagine therefore, if you will, my horror at the pissy little excuse for the drink served up to me (in the company of Ms Lillet no less!) in the bar at The Zetter in Clerkenwell.

Possibly I should have seen it coming, but the sense of shock was no less keen. On entering the absurdly named establishment, I commented (under my beery breath): “Why, this place looks like a hotel bar or some such similar dreadfulness.” “That's probably,” replied Lillet in a trice, “because it is.” Oh. I see.

To our seats then, and Lillet orders an Aperol Spritz; I the fateful Negroni. The former comes in a pint-sized ludicrous goblet thing and has more ice than the Boam's partridge freezer; it tastes of nothing. But this nothing is heaven compared to the latter, urgh the latter. The key to a Negroni, like the Boam prose, is balance – it must cleanse and calm and soothe, and needle and taunt and spur the drinker on to ever greater feats. If I, perish the thought, were ever to become a donkey, the Negroni would be both my carrot and my stick.

But this, this little pot of fecklessness, was all horribly off-kilter – a thin, anaemic little thing, with no bite and barely enough booze to souse a squirrel. Pointless, heart-rendingly pointless. I could have cried, were it not for the fact that we'd only stopped off on the way to Marylebone, and a heartily-anticipated Boam family knees-up. If there's one thing that makes up for the horror of a terrible Negroni, it's eight heart-shudderingly perfect ones immediately afterwards. That's the Boam way.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Casita, Old Street

5a Ravey St
London EC2A 4QW

Lee Moncello

Casita: less like a little house, more like a garage.  A small drop-in, on a small street, with a small loo. Three bar stools; hardly more beer taps. Espresso machine (for martinis). Fruit (for batidas). No tapas (don’t ask).

Nice spirits: Beefeater, Abuelo, Arette. The cocktail menu’s a plastic peg board. Lists classics (mojitos, margaritas) and bar signatures (Kizmet, Oriental). But anything goes. Owner Will Foster trained with Jake ‘Portobello Star’ Berger. He knows cocktails - loves tequila. Evangelical about his verdita.

Green & Red’s gone – now Casita’s the best tequila east of Soho. Hearts are warm. Drinks are cold. Just don’t ask for a coffee.

Monday, 11 October 2010

HIX, Soho

66-70 Brewer Street

Kina Lillet

I stood in front of a heavy wooden door on Brewer Street on a sunny Saturday afternoon and looked forlornly at a heavy wooden door separating me from HIX.

"It looks closed," I said glumly to my associate, Jerry Boam, "what kind of drinking den is closed on a Saturday afternoon?" Luckily I thought to try the door and when I pushed on it, it swung satisfyingly open. Because I knew the bar was downstairs I wasted no time chatting to the overly inquisitive staff on the door or even looking around the ground-floor restaurant. I’ve eaten at the St John Street operation and I know the food is mouth watering: get me to the cocktail list.

At the bottom of the stairs, we found ourselves with a most agreeable situation: a beautiful bar and it was ours, all ours. I wanted to move in. Literally. We fell into plush chesterfields at one end of the room and sighed at the sight of the cocktail menu. After considerable perusal of the entirely too wordy menu, JB decided not to stretch himself with one of the more adventurous looking delights and plumped for old faithful. By which I mean he had a Negroni. Which tasted like a Negroni.

I, on the other hand, was craving an Amaretto Sour, but for the benefit of you dear reader, took the bullet to find out what HIX’s cocktail wizard was capable of. I ordered a Forbidden Sour. Once I got over the inanity of ordering such a ridiculously-named drink, I could appreciate the subtlety of the thing. Initial impressions of the drink - composed of Julian Temperley's Apple eau de vie and Galliano L'Authentico - were favourable, but an unexpected anise seed after taste gave me pause. The next round saw me cave in and order that Amaretto Sour with he-the-next-chesterfield-over sticking with the Negronis. He said they were delicious. I wasn’t interested. The Amaretto Sour was predictably satisfying: sweet, but lip-puckeringly sour. Honestly, I could drink them all day.

Given that a rather large dish of cobnuts appeared on our table out of nowhere, top marks for bar snacks.

HIX is the sort of place I’d like to live in. It’s like a heavenly IKEA. You go in; you lose track of time; you forget there’s natural light outside; you can’t find your way out. But you don’t give a damn, because the barman is just about to bring you another Amaretto Sour.