“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they’ll feel all day.” Anywhere that quotes Old Blue Eyes on its cocktail menus has us sold. Housed on the ground floor of growing foodie square Kingly Court, Wright Brothers’ Soho Oyster House gives bivalve mollusc lovers what they want in unpretentious environs. Marble-top poser tables and stools make the bar area of the group’s Soho outpost possibly more suited than others to casual meets than sit-down dinners (although we wouldn’t be adverse to the latter).
The wine list would please any fisherman after a long day at sea, but it’s the herb- and fruit-heavy cocktail list that catches the eye. For long libation lovers, the Manda’s Elixir ticks the boxes with Portobello Road gin, peach, passionfruit, apple and lemon juice. But if it’s a short, sharp hit you’re after, the Mellow Barrel with Four Roses bourbon, Portal LBV port and egg white will take the edge off a long working day. Damage control comes in the form of small and large plates — we’re salivating over the likes of Alaskan king crab and wagyu beef. But it is, of course, the oysters we’re here for. Majestic platters served on stands make for, perhaps, the most extravagant of table centres. Get them dressed with kizami wasabi, chilli jam and cucumber sorbet, or have them naked, just as nature intended them to be.
You’ll be just as likely to see suited co-workers chatting shop as a couple of friends catching up after a long day in their respective offices. A dedicated bar entrance also means you don’t get the thoroughfare of restaurant and private dining guests disturbing you. Nobody wants to be watched as they slurp, do they?
Best Bars tip: This place fills up at about 7pm, so get down early for pre-dinner oysters or post-work cocktails with a couple of mates. Make sure to check out the cool caged private dining area, too. Guys looking to impress a date would do well to book in at the window. Well, you know what they say about oysters, don’t you?
Set on one of Haggerston’s quiet residential streets is a London food-and-drink gem that you absolutely must not miss. The ever-so-slightly quirky signage outside might flag that The Richmond ain’t your average neighbourhood boozer. A simple clean interior with red walls and well chosen artwork makes it inviting, casual and on the right side of refined. And while we like the design, it’s the food and drink that will keep us coming here again and again.
As we said, the menus here are sensational. To eat, we started off with the raw bar (a must) and topped our oysters with a zesty spicy sauce that we would love to take with us to every shellfish haunt the world over. We then moved on to hotter items such as the chargrilled octopus which was hands down the BEST octopus we’ve ever tasted. Perfectly charred on the outside and still lovely and tender in. Plus the healthy dollop of aioli didn’t go remiss either. And don’t leave without getting the banana tart (remarkably soft and with a delicate sweetness that’s outrageously sumptuous) as well as the apple beignets that come with caramelised apples and ricotta sorbet. We have a real soft spot for anything resembling apple pie.
And now on to the drinks — well it’s no surprise here that there is just as much care and attention given to the liquid refreshments as to the solids. The bar manager here has an impressive CV having worked for the likes of HIX and Dishoom so now he is bringing his sophisticated touch to a short list of cocktails that seem both accessible and refined all at once. For a long and frothy option, try The Richmond Fizz with Beefeater gin, fresh lime, Pedrino and egg white. If you’re keen for something stirred down and brown, try Madame Maury with Diplomatico reserva exclusiva, Maury, sugar and bitters.
Best Bars tip: Come hungry. Leave happy. And definitely swing by for the happy hour: £1 oysters from 6-7pm on weekdays and 5-6pm on Saturdays. Unmissable.
The BFI is a bit of a maze, with things to discover on all floors – cinemas, exhibitions, but bars too. Entering from the riverside, you’ll have to adventure yourself deep inside the building to find yourself in The Drawing Room, a small and cosy cocktail bar attached to Benugo, where the library décor sees conversation and drinks flowing.
It’s got a bit of that classic London vibe to it, so the menu’s got a welcome focus on bubbles and Martinis, with well-executed drinks with just a touch of inventiveness to surprise Southbank tourists and entice boozers. The Quince and Vanilla Bean Margarita combines powerful and tangy flavours for something very moreish, while the Elderflower and Violet Blossom is a simple and delicate pleaser. There’s a few draughts and plenty of wine to pick from too.
It’s really the atmosphere that makes this worth the visit though. Set a bit away from the BFI, it’s calmer and quieter, and the ceiling-high bookshelves filled with quirky old books and old-school posters on the walls make this perfect for a date night, or a long conversation about noir films with your dad over a whisky. You get the picture…
Best Bars tip: There are a few nibbles to try too – try the empanadas platter!
Just under the bridge that marks the end of Shoreditch High Street and the beginning of Kingsland Road sits, you guessed it, The Bridge. From the outside, the dark facade and gloomy entrance give the impression of a place that time forgot, but head inside and you’ll be talking about this treasure trove until the cows come home.
Boxing gloves, a vintage Coca Cola fridge full of beers and an old fashioned till are only a few of the mismatched memorabilia that make this coffee house/bar so enchanting. A small television above the bar even shows black and white boxing matches throughout the day and night – we hear the owner’s a huge fan and we challenge you not to be after an hour in this place.
It’s what’s upstairs that makes this treasure trove so special, though. Fringed and art deco lamps light the throne-like armchairs and sofas that festoon this space. Got a penchant for velvet? You’re in luck – the windows and ceiling are draped with the stuff, making it the perfect getaway for afternoon tea drinking or early evening beers. Cake lovers will be happy to hear that the downstairs display fridge is chock full of french cakes and fancies, while savoury pastries keep those with a savoury tooth sweet.
Best Bars tip: Get there early on a Friday night and enjoy the opulence of the upstairs parlour before you embark on an inevitable evening of drinking on foot on the east London scene below.
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?
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.