“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?
Down South has gone north, with the latest outpost of Joe’s Southern Kitchen opening in Kentish Town – fully kitted out with all its signature trimmings, nibbles and tipples.
Head downstairs to Jailbird for the basement bar experience, and don’t worry, they won’t lock you in (plus the food is a million notches above prison swill). Notable faves on the menu include the mac and cheese, the crispy chips and saucy wings. This is messy business, so keep plenty of serviettes to hand and maybe leave the white shirt at home.
To drink, there’s a lot of bourbon and American whiskey on the menu, unsurprisingly, so we say stick to the theme. If you’re in the mood for something stirred down and brown then order The Assasin with Rittenhouse Rye, Chambord, Noilly Prat and Campari served up with a lemon peel. And for £12, you can have this drink plus six fried wings. *We lurve a good deal … particularly the £5 signature cocktails that are ALWAYS a fiver. Sorted.
Best Bars tip: Book yourself one of the booths, and settle in for a one-stop shop kind of night.
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.
L’Escargot: a Soho institution that exudes French flavours and old-world panache. For one of the most classic (and classy) dinners in town, book yourself into the restaurant. But if you want a members’ club experience that’s intimate, quirky and high brow – then get yourself upstairs. With a few fresh licks of paint and an insane art collection, this 280-year-old townhouse is perfect for sophisticated yet laid-back, grown-up sipping.
Coco Chanel used to imbibe here, so we say go for classic cocktails and head to the Salon Grande Siècle for a big, bright experience. We’re particularly fond of the bubbly French 75 made with gin, champagne and a whack of lemon for a zesty kick.
If you’re hungry, then tuck into staple fare such as lobster salad or a steak sandwich (done well). And if you’re here, then you know you best be ordering some snails. It’s a sin if you don’t.
Best Bars tip: This labrinthine space is perfect for private parties – no matter the size. Either get your closest pals together for debaucherous drinks in one of the small lounging rooms or throw a massively lavish dinner party for your fanciest friends in the Bureau.
From the team behind Seven at Brixton comes a sibling that’s got potential to establish itself as one of Brixton’s greats. Three Eight Four has that “south of the River” cool minimalism, from the industrial-looking shop front through to the simple small plates and cocktail menu. It just hits the spot.
Try and grab a seat at the bar so you can stare at the shelves of spirits to give you ordering inspiration. You’ll also have front row on the spectacle if you order a Mr Flambtastic, which involves flambéed peaches that’ll cause flames almost hitting the roof in front of your eyes. The Bombay Kitchen is refreshing with a welcome kick of spice, and comes with a side of mini poppadoms to get your appetite going. The food menu’s not to be missed: the nduja with ricotta on bread is so moreish we’d recommend ordering two portions, but there’s also plenty of veggie options. Hello arancinis!
Start the day there with a stack of pancakes or come at night when it gets pleasantly buzzing – with a dimmed atmosphere that’s as good for dates as it is for imbibed catch-ups with friends.
Best Bars tip: If you’re feeling traditional drinks-wise, ask to see their classic cocktails album – it’s impressive and beautiful, and will help you get to know all the drinks you should.
A beautifully renovated Victorian house with wood-board ceilings, an open kitchen, cosy booths and trendy staff. West Thirty Six is a townhouse of treasures, with secret dining rooms, open fires, smoking terraces and private party spaces. It feels like a members’ club, but it’s open to everyone. Nip by any time of day and hang out in the sunny ground floor bar – either nab a seat overlooking the open kitchen or park up in one of the leather banquettes.
If you’re coming for dinner, head to the first floor dining room – it’s seriously dark and seriously sexy. The menu is a mash-up of American and British cuisine, so come hungry. We had the scallops, steak, crab trifle, beef tartare and finished it off with a luxurious deconstructed banoffee pie. It was all hearty and delicious (and our waistlines were not the better for it). But who can resist a perfect seared steak and dishes full of ultra smoky and unctuous flavours. Since we love a good drink, naturally we had to have a few Manhattans – and you should too.
The crowd here is west London hip, with big groups of young guys and gals sharing big plates and bottles of bubbly then heading out to one of the FOUR alfresco areas for a smoke. Yes, four. In the summer, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to alfresco drinking.
Best Bars tip: Looking for a private party space? The top floor is where it’s at. Hire it out and it’ll be like the best house party you’ve ever been to (with DJs and drinks supplied).
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?