Not many bars require a bag scanner, two lifts and some serious ear-popping to get into them; but GŎNG was never going to be understated. Sitting perilously on Level 52 of The Shard, the Shangri-La bar is the highest in London. The vertigo sufferers among you will certainly need a stiff drink to deal with the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows, but those more in sync with their equilibrium will want one to celebrate it. Modern Asian design is the feel with the interiors paying homage to an upmarket Chinese drinking den, with purple furnishings, marble-top tables and a wall made of oriental-style cabinet drawers. Whether you sit in the cocktail or champagne bar, the atmosphere is as you’d expect: quiet and understated.
The menu, however, is anything but. Alongside the obligatory Bollinger and vintage wines, the signature cocktails are a mix of classics and clever twists. The dramatic Big Smoke (a libation consisting of Dodd’s gin, dry sherry and Mancino Rosso Amaranto) comes with a smoking bowl of herbs and spices, and the award-winning Black & Blue Swizzle mixes Talisker, honey, lime, PX sherry and blue cheese. Punchy, to say the least (we’d hope so, at £17 a pop). If you’re looking to mop up your spoils, and you don’t want to venture downstairs to the restaurants, the bar snack menu ranges from tapas to foie gras and Beluga caviar.
If you’re wanting to impress out of towners, then GŎNG is a winner. A couple of sophisticated drinks for a special occasion would go down well here too, and it’s a good excuse to put on a splash of finery while you’re at it. Just make sure you take plenty of dosh to play with – trust us, you’ll need it.
Best Bars tip: After 9pm, the infinity pool opens to imbibers who fancy poolside evening drinks. You can’t say that about a London bar often, can you?
Ingredients from far out east are carefully balanced with on-trend cocktail bases. Take the Hoa Hong – made from sake, hibiscus flower, Aperol and prosecco, it’s the Vietnamese take on a Spritz. Delicate flavours of the Orient make a great base for refreshing drinks like the La Long Ice Tea, with lotus ice tea added to tequila and grenadine. Aperitif drinks are a match for lightly spiced and subtle bar snacks, including “pig on a stick” and salt and chilli squid with red eye mayo.
The bar isn’t large in size but packs a punch with exotic rich red drapes, lanterns and upholstery.
Best Bars tip: Try the Viet Royal – a spoonful of plum jam lays in the bottom, with spoon left in. Simply stir to make this drink as sweet as you like.
London can’t get enough of its secret bars, and its latest hidden treasure is tucked within Chinatown’s “labyrinthine” Opium. Once you finally find the tiny bar that is Peony (this will undoubtedly take a few attempts), one glimpse at the ceiling and you’ll notice that the design of this space is a microcosm of the whole townhouse — in the best kind of way.
Drinks are crafty with inventive twists on classic cocktails, plus a dose of Asian influence. For tequila lovers, try the Mexican in China with Herradura tequila, Xilli liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice, lime and maraschino. And if you want to share the fun, get a teapot of the Peony Punch — an easygoing number with Absolut Blue vodka, dragonfruit and coconut puree, cranberry juice, lemon, Angostura bitters and nutmeg. Food here is irresistible, so it’s best to treat yourself to a bit of dim sum. Get the whole bloody platter in fact!
With beautifully intricate wallpaper, dim lighting and dark wood — you’ll feel like you’re hanging out in the hippest spot in Shanghai.
Best Bars tip: This is Opium’s even more elegant sister, so come down if you’re looking to impress and prove (once and for all) that you are the MOST “in the know”.
In a normal world, abandoned-looking industrial buildings tucked away behind railway arches are best avoided – expect of course if you’re in London, in which case chances are you’ve found a genial cocktail bar. It’s the case for Cecil’s, a gem of a drinking den that truly asks for some commitment to be found: a dark alley and grim looking stairs lead to a large, dim room where time is well spent.
The drinks list is really quite eclectic, with some interesting work on serving categories: choose from punches, highballs, large pots to share, or small pick-me-ups – elaborate shots. Keep it local with a Borough Citrus Punch — beautifully refreshing and dry. Or go bold with the whole Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor set of shots, which combine different spirits with liqueurs and juices.
The place looks like an Asian-inspired Prohibition bar, perhaps a touch confusing but it really works: Chinese lanterns and small plates of dumplings mix with evenings of live blues and swing dancing. There’s really nothing not to love.
Best Bars tip: Saturday nights are Uff Tea nights – an immersive 1930s Shanghai experience with live jazz, extravagant glamour and of course, great drinks.
Sitting on Dalston’s Kingsland Road, Brilliant Corners is a top jazz spot and watering hole for the Hackney hipster.
Specialising in top-notch natural wines, spirits and Japanese food, the funky bar welcomes a young, cultured crowd that heads down to listen to DJs spinning vinyl on a breeze block DJ booth. Tuck into a soft-shell crab roll or wasabi salmon salad, which might be washed down with a sake, mezcal or glass of wine from off the beaten track, such as a crisp white from Etna in Sicily.
Turn on, tune in and drop out.
Best Bars tip: Unsure what wine to order? Put yourself in the hands of owner Amit Patel, who certainly knows his onions.
Ling Ling’s seductive late-night lounge found in Hanway Place’s Hakkasan is fit for celebrating in style.
Since things don’t get going until 10pm, cocktails take the tone of after dinner drinks, nightcaps and extra-boozy offerings – the Shanghai Sting is as potent as it sounds, with Rittenhouse 100 Rye Whiskey, crème de menthe and Chartreuse in the mix. But it’s the extensive champagne list that best suits showy celebrations or a sexy rendezvous. Bollinger, Dom Perignon, Cristal – all the gang is here. They’re best enjoyed with classic Chinese dim sum dishes.
It’s very Sex in the City, and with pulsating lounge beats and light bouncing off gold wall panels, it’s no wonder media types and Mayfair’s finest choose Ling Ling for the after-party.
Best Bars tip: The Peking duck menu offers a bottle of Louis Roederer with a whole bird served across two dishes – exquisite pancakes are great for sharing.
Shochu Lounge, one of the sexiest little Fitzrovia basement bars, is also the insider’s way to experience acclaimed dishes from upstairs Japanese restaurant Roka.
Shochu Lounge pays homage to the eponymous earthy Japanese spirit, and shochu infusions – peach, cherry, plum – can be ordered neat with ice chipped from a block by the bar. Shochu versions of whisky sours are just as popular as long drinks like the zesty Green Tea Pear Bellini. If you’re feeling flush, create your own shochu infusion jar, stashed behind the bar for repeat visits. Dishes hot off the upstairs robata grill can be enjoyed, as well as generous sashimi and sushi boards from the famous Roka menu. Order a dessert platter of exotic fruits, sorbets and pastries to truly complement the lounge vibe.
Dressed damn dark and sexy, Shochu Lounge is best set for evening appointments, especially when the DJ arrives to play slick beats that were made for such a setting.
Best Bars tip: Shochu Kanteen is dishing out lunch Monday to Friday from 12pm-3:30pm. With ramen, steamed buns and salads — you’ll be spoiled for choice.