I was talking with some friends last night and we started talking cocktails. One friend just got back from London and he had worked his way through a list of bars I recommended. A few in particular blew him away, and I know how he felt because I had the same experience when I visited last year. (I received a grant to spend a few weeks in London working at a cocktail lab / bar, and checking out the London bar scene.)
One evening during my visit to London I went to Lounge Bohemia. I introduced myself to the owner and head bartender Paul, and we immediately hit it off and for the next four hours I had the most amazing cocktails, interspersed with tiny bites of equally amazing food. I was served a multi-course meal of cocktails. Drinks were served in unusual containers like lightbulbs that gave you a slight electrical buzz as you sipped, and a series of test tubes with a flavor progression to each, and glasses topped of with various foams, interesting cotton candy garnishes flavored with Campari, leather infused whiskey with myrrh, etc.
At the bar with no name at 69 Colebrook Row I had quite a few serious cocktails, some made with vintage spirits, and some that had been made and bottled a decade ago. One of the house amuse-bouche is their famous Prairie Oyster. Served in a porcelain ramekin shaped like an abstract oyster shell. It's horseradish vodka distilled in a low temp. rotovap in the lab, with a centriguge and vacuum chamber clarified yellow tomato reverse spherification ball the size and texture of an egg yolk, Oloroso sherry, Worcester sauce, pepper sauce, shallots, red wine vinegar, topped with a julienne of the herb oyster leaf which tastes like oyster. When you shoot back the drink it turns into a Bloody Mary in you mouth. This was really fun for me because one of the things I did was make the ingredients for this cocktail while working in the lab.
Another great place is Nightjar. It's just an amazing bar. Fabulous cocktails with obscure, rare, and vintage ingredients, and insanely amazing garnishes. But the choreography of the bartenders, especially the bar manager Marian Beke, and head bartender Luca Cinalli takes it up another notch. Every movement they make is thought out and embellished as if it were ballet. It's a style of flair bartending, but not what most people think. If regular bartending can be compared to juggling, the Nightjar folks are dancing with their hands. Also the jazz they play, both recorded and live, is phenomenal. You can see a bit of what I am talking about in this video of Martina making the Caramel Nest cocktail, which she made for me on one of my visits.
Article about their garnishes.
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