Exmouth Market’s been London’s up-and-coming idyllic village for a while – maybe came-and-coming would be more accurate. Yet it’s not been taken over just by newbies; quite the contrary in the case of Medcalf Traiteur, the offspring of its decade-old original, Medcalf. Here the theme is quite French picnic, so pop by when you’re feeling chilled and chatty.
While the Traiteur’s quite popular at lunch times for its hearty specials, at night the place turns wine bar, with a selection of quirky Old World wines served by the glass, and plenty more bottles if you’re very thirsty. It’s all very convivial and informal, so get chatting to the waiter about what you like – or not – and they’ll be happy to get you tasting. The wines available change as often as weekly so we’d recommend small measures to try them all, and to keep coming back. Food wise it’s all charcuterie platters, cheese and salads, but some is available from the main restaurant next door too if you’re feeling like “proper” plates. We loved the potato gnocchi and could not get enough of the desserts.
Looking around, things are pretty simple: wooden décor, plain hanging lights, brick walls painted white and a display of meats and cheese by the window. This isn’t a place trying to be more than it is – you, small groups of friends, passers-by and eager guzzlers alike will feel welcome. It feels like an extension of your own living room, and that’s what matters most.
Best Bars tip: Bring your old vinyls and ask if you can contribute to the night’s playlist … the DJ’s the record player here.
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?
The battle for “bar with the greatest view of London” is a hard-fought one and Rumpus Room is the most recent contender. Facing the river from the top of Mondrian London at Sea Containers, a drink there will definitely give you that Londoner pride feeling – and not least so because the bar’s part of Mr Lyan’s portfolio.
The space really is the star player here. Visit at night, when the room is dark and lit by dandelion-like pendant lamps, the backbar and the city’s windows and streetlights. The deep red sofas are super comfortable, but if the weather’s right, nip out on the terrace to really take in the view.
Drinks wise, the menu’s split between ten classics and ten Rumpus serves – don’t expect the same as downstairs in Dandelyan. Here the drinks are a bit more approachable; twists on well-known names mostly. We liked the fresh and easy-drinking Pineapple Dark’n’Stormy, and the note of hops in the cistrusy Lemon Balm Margarita. There are also a few bites available – if you’ve managed to avoid London’s lobster frenzy, now is really time to give a lobster roll a try.
Best Bars tip: Rumpus Room is often closed for private events, so check before visiting.
Bond No 9 in name refers to its location on Leith’s Commercial Street, in a large building once a whisky bond, shared by a Michelin-starred restaurant, offices and a furniture store among the residents. A lot of the original stone has been revealed in the main area with a good sized bright conservatory out to the rear which can be booked out for events. During the summer months it’s also a great place to park up and enjoy the weather in their outside area.
We made our way there for some decent sustenance after a cycle around Edinburgh’s coastal paths and arrived just in time to grab one of the last tables in the conservatory area. Brunch is served every weekend and the offer of their “bigger breakfast” was too good to skip: pork and herb sausages, smoked bacon, and Stornoway black pudding were the main stars of an ample dish backed up with the usual brunch features. Although the cocktail list is ample and well executed it was a strong cuppa and a virgin Bloody Mary with their house blend of spices for us, this time.
Leith is an area which due to a lot of redevelopment in recent years attracts a diverse crowd and Bond No 9 is no exception. Weekdays the main draw is relaxed food and great coffee, weekends a more restaurant feel is there with patrons enjoying top notch grub served by candlelight. Check their social media too as they’ll often have local DJ talent playing later in the evenings at the weekends.
Best Bars tip: The gantry holding all the spirits at Bond is one of the biggest and most diverse in Edinburgh. This means that they can rustle up not just the drinks from the award winning menu but pretty much anything your heart desires – Pisco Sour anyone?
If you want to discover London’s best gin delights (and a some more of its best bars), then it’s time to hop on to the Gin Journey. It’s not quite a pub crawl – this is a rather more elegant affair – but either way, it’s just as fun. Put yourself into the capable hands of Leon Dalloway, the dashing chap who’s the brains behind Shake, Rattle and Stir. With a decade of experience working in the drinks industry, needless to say — he knows his stuff.
In one evening, you’ll get to visit five bars, taste five cocktails and five gins, be chauffered around London in a “gin carriage”and learn all about the fascinating history of this iconically British spirit – for the bargain sum of £60. In it’s current incarnation, you’ll start the night off at Merchant House – a beautiful gin and rum bar in the City – where you’ll get to know one of the most awarded gins of the last few decades, Martin Miller’s. From there, it’s on to Tower Bridge where you’ll drink Beefeater among the Beefeaters. Sheer genius. This stop is at Perkin Reveller, and as it’s your opportunity to order some food – we say, take it up. We quite nearly ate the entire menu … and felt all the better for it.
Then it’s time to hop on to the gin carriage and head eastward, to the prettiest bar-cum-distillery we ever did see: East London Liquor Company. Here you’ll get the full rundown on how gin is made and get to taste some of their home brand stuff – it’s as fresh as it gets. The next stop on the journey is at Worship Street Whistling Shop: a Shoreditch speakeasy slinging some seriously sumptuous Sipsmith sippers. And when it’s time to wrap up the night, you’ll be heading to the one and only Callooh Callay. This is a mega-bar that’s won quite a few awards in its day and is partial to a punny cocktail or two. Here things will get changed up month-to-month, with guest gins taking a starring role. We got to try a What’s up Doc made with Ford’s Gin, lemon, elderflower, ginger, carrot shrub, orange and mandarin bitters poured over prosecco. Bright orange, bubbly and brilliantly fun.
Oh and did we mention there will be prizes up for grabs throughout the night? Come prepped with your best gin knowledge OR be a social media whiz. Either way, you can leave with some nifty gifties.
Best Bars tip: Once you’ve had a taste of the Gin Journey – you’ll be all aboard for more. And lucky for you, there’s plenty more to choose from. To get the whole “Gin Experience“, join Leon for a tour of London’s gin distilleries and really sink your teeth into the technical sides of production. Or switch over to the richer sweeter side and go on a Rum Ramble – like the Gin Journey but with a LOT more rum.
The Remedy is an adorable backstreet bar, where excellent snacks are only just upstaged by some very fine wine.
The drinks list is divided up so even rookie wine fans can get a feel for what plonk works best – you’ll find no wine snobbery at The Remedy. Red wines are fit “to entice”, while some whites on the menu are made “to quench” – happy days! To complement predominantly European wines, bar snacks have a Mediterranean feel. Opt for “on toast” dishes and large plates, or share small plates like grissini wrapped in lardo – gorgeous breadsticks with a rich mushroom pâté and melt-in-the-mouth meat slivers.
With little nooks for winter months and a small terrace out the front, The Remedy is a great date spot. Guests can also sit at the bar and take advantage of the expertise from experienced staff.
Best Bars tip: Warm and friendly staff facilitate conversation around the room – don’t be surprised if neighbouring tables start sharing wine tips.
Dry January … it just sounds so, well, dry. But it doesn’t have to be. We all know that maybe we hit the sauce (be it cranberry or booze) a little too hard round the Christmas/New Year period, so everyone’s been cutting back. Yet switching completely to the green shakes and kale chips isn’t so enticing anymore. We’re here to help. If you’re not avoiding drinking completely, it’s time to try one of these delicious vermouthy Martinis. Plus, you’re going to look pretty bad-ass ordering off-menu drinks. If that doesn’t put 2015 off to a good start, we don’t know what will.
An underground masterpiece, MASH is big, bold and definitely beautiful. Reminiscent of cruise ships from a more decadent era, this Soho staple is perfect for post-work tipples or massive steak dinners.
If you’re in the mood for a mysterious tipple, then head to the Bar With No Name … or as it’s better known, 69 Colebrooke Row. Courtesy of cocktail maestro Tony Conigliaro and his lab (a.k.a. the Drink Factory), this cosy hidden bar is constantly breaking ground with its innovative creations.
Drink to try: Ask for Mike’s twist on a gin classic — the Lip Stinger. Equal parts vermouth and gin, with a few dashes of orange bitters and a drop of absinthe to finish it off. Lip stinging? Yes. Tasty? Yes.
The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy is an art deco masterpiece and one of the singularly most decadent drinking holes in London. And by hole, we mean hotel extraordinaire. Walking in, you’ll feel every ounce special occasion — even if it’s just a Monday after-work tipple. Even though the Beaufort is a new addition following the 2011 multi-million refurb, the bar is set up on the hotel’s former cabaret stage where legendary performers used to entertain. From Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe, the world’s greatest have whiled away the hours here … and you should too.
Drink to try: Ask Lorenzo to make you his land- and sea-inspired MM Cocktail — a decadent combination of vodka, dry vermouth, two dashes of pomelo bitters, a Parmesan water and Islay scotch rinse, with an oyster leaf and vanilla caviar garnish. It might sound a little crazy, but damn it tastes good.
A classy club in the heart of Soho, Quo Vadis houses the masters of Martinis. But you know what else they do well? Everything. So if you’re in the mood for sophisticated sipping, mosey on down.
Drink to try: If the ever-smiling Simone is behind the bar, ask to try The Harmony. A Martini twist made with chinotto liqueur, Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth and Bombay Sapphire East Dry gin — it’s balanced and dry with gentle bitter notes.
The bar pays tribute to the grandeur and opulence of the original Town Hall building, yet there is a level of restraint that keeps things just the right amount of casual. And with plenty of spots to perch around the island bar — with an extra brass counter for your drinks — this is perfect for bar-side or table-side boozing.
Drink to try: Ask bartender Ally Martin for a Martini au Marseillen — a slightly salty mix of Bombay Sapphire Dry gin, Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth, a splash of saline solution and garnished with a caper berry.
A subterranean Tiki party spot that is always up for a wild night fuelled by rummy cocktails. The 70s basement décoris cheeky and cheerful, much like their staff and drinks. So when you’re looking to cut loose, there’s little better than this ode to Polynesia/Tiki-Americana.
Drink to try: In true Tiki-style, the Smoki Joe Martini is all about the fire and flare — though a notably more restrained approach than some of the volcano drinks (which you should also try). We’ll leave the rest as a surprise.