• A gin-lover’s tour of London

    I’ve written a little about the history of gin here, but I know that’s not what you’re really interested in. Judging by the number of “could you recommend a bar…” texts I receive, what you really want to know is where to drink it. Lord knows there are enough of these round-ups, but here’s my spin: the best cocktails, bar-by-bar. 


    Tasting menu, London Gin Club at the Star at Night
    Four gins, plus Fever Tree mixers and garnishes to match each one. Mix, sniff, sample and share to your heart’s delight. What’s not to like? The Star at Night might look like a grotty boozer from the outside, but inside the deal is table service and reservations.

    Stiff upper lip, Mark’s Bar
    Expensive, yes, but this louche lounge beneath Hix is worth the cover charge for the atmosphere alone. It’s also the only place where you can try green-pea-infused gin with ginseng, cider vinegar and mint. Their claim on the menu is right: it is time to give peas a chance.

    Paint-tin punch, Graphic
    Graphic, er, really does deliver what it says on the tin. Aside from a collection of nearly two hundred different gins, there’s a short range of easy-drinking paint-pot cocktails that suit the laidback atmosphere. Try the green one: a mix of Hendrick’s, cucumber and lemon sherbet. Whether the glittery film on top is designed to be ingested remains up for debate.

    St Germain des Prés, ECC
    I’m loath to include ECC. Their rude staff, bemusing walk-in policy and ridiculous prices are well documented – and I’ve experienced them all – yet, well, sometimes it’s fun to disappear through an unmarked door in Chinatown and ensconce yourself in a velvet armchair for an hour or two. The price of a basic two-course meal will buy you a champagne saucer of St Germain des Prés: Hendrik’s, egg-white, cucumber and a mysterious spiced tincture.

    Savoy American Bar


    A custom job, The Savoy’s American Bar
    You might as well put bartenders of this pedigree through their paces. Sit at the bar and request a bespoke creation from their arsenal of Tanqueray No. 10, Sipsmith and more. This slice of old London needs no introduction.

    Gin and tonica, Port House
    Gin and tonic might be firmly enmeshed in the history of our capital, but more recently it’s made inroads in Spain. At the Port House, alongside generous plates of tapas, you can try the daily “gin and tonica” special, served in a balloon-shaped copa glass. Impressive for a Spanish restaurant that hails from Ireland.


    Gardeners’s tea break, Bourne & Hollingsworth
    Bourne & Hollingsworth were doing prohibition-style drinking well before Shoreditch covered itself in flocked wallpaper. The gardeners’s tea break is another Hendrick’s and cucumber job, with added green tea and mint. Best of all, it comes with a tiny cucumber sandwich on the side.

    Bourne and Hollingsworth


    Dry martini with a twist, Gin Joint
    Everyone knows how they like their martini, and this is how I have mine. Gin Joint is a bit corporate – it’s a Searcy’s brasserie after all – but they can mix a damn fine drink. Brutalism sceptics need not apply: you’ll probably spend an hour lost in the Barbican centre before you get here.

    Negroni, Café Kick
    Sure, this might not be the best-made negroni in town, but there’s no beating this gin, Campari and vermouth combo on a summer evening on Exmouth Market. I’ll always remember a American friend’s incredulity that drinking on the street is allowed here. The only downside is that gin and table football skills do not go hand-in-hand.


    Black cat martini, Worship Street Whistling Stop
    I don’t have a clue how they make this. The secret ingredient is “removed cream”, which turns Tanqueray and vermouth into something special – and very strong. The Worship Street Whistling Stop is the sister bar of Purl. It’s a sort of speakeasy crossed with a Victorian apothecary.

    Winter negroni, Duck & Waffle
    I really hope Duck & Waffle bring this cocktail back. It came in a tiny bottle sealed with a beer cap, along with a glass of ice, twist of orange and a bottle opener. Fiendishly bitter, this was one for the hardened negroni fan. One two many and the forty-floor descent became even more nerve jangling.

    Sushi Samba

    Shoreditch and Hoxton

    Negroni, White Lyan
    Yes, there are too many negronis on this list. (I’m a big fan.) But this one is different. White Lyan use no ice and no citrus, so what you’re left with is a centimetre or so of intense, lightly chilled booze. The real surprise? It tastes almost exactly like the original.

    Hendricks and tonic, Boundary Rooftop
    If you’re going to wrap yourself in a rug and watch the sun set over the City, you might as well stick with a classic drink. It feels like a members’ club up here, yet the only barriers to entry are the queue and slightly pricy menu.

    Ramos gin fizz, NOLA
    There’s nowhere better in London to try this “decadent New Orleans classic”, gin shaken with lemon, sugar, orange-flower water, cream and egg white. Spot-on decor and regular live jazz go a long way to evoke of the spirit of the French Quarter. Those prone to sudden bouts of wanderlust beware.



    Bombay bomfire, Bar Story
    A neon-green, gin-kiwi-elderflower-lime martini somehow feels much less twee when drunk at a picnic table in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Bar Story‘s excellent bar staff also go some way to make up for the most terrifying toilets in London. In summer, Peckham’s infamous rooftop Campari bar is just a stumble away.

    Jensen’s gin and tonic, 214 Bermondsey
    When on Bermondsey Street, you have to try Bermondsey’s own gin: Jensen’s. It’s super-dry, designed in the style of gins from the 1800s. The bar itself is tucked beneath the Italian restaurant, Antico, and they are serious about their spirits: they even mix their own tonic.

    Have I missed your favourite? Let me know below. 

  • Four twists on the Negroni

    The Negroni fad has continued apace in London this year. In no small part thanks to the likes of Polpo, Forza Win and Frank’s, Aperol and Campari are being consumed with an enthusiasm not seen for years. But while a light, sweet Aperol spritz is always going to taste best on a sun-baked rooftop in August, a classic Negroni is just as appealing once the autumn gloom has set in. Exact recipes vary, but the ingredients remain the same: Campari, sweet vermouth and gin, usually in nearly equal measures.

    The cocktail was supposedly invented in Florence in 1919, where a Count by the name of Camillo Negroni is said to have asked for the soda in his Americano – a drink invented by Campari founder, Gaspare Campari, in 1860 – to be replaced with gin. At the same time, across the pond, Campari was classified as medicinal and one of the few drinks to escape prohibition.

    Fast-forward to today, and we’re all getting a little bored. The Negroni’s become ubiquitous, with sickly, sticky attempts churned out to catch the tail end of the trend. Even Jay Rayner has taken to the pages of the Guardian to express his dismay at the prevalence of a drink he feels is “like punishment for a crime not yet committed”.

    I still love the bitterness of this crimson cocktail, but it’s time to shake things up a bit. Here are four variants on the classic:

    Negroni 2 Negroni 1

    The sloe gin Negroni

    This recipe comes courtesy of Sipsmith, who included it in a booklet handed out at a pop-up back in July. It’s sweeter, but still sufficiently strong.

    1 part sloe gin
    1 part gin
    1 (small) part Campari
    A dash of Angostura bitters
    Twist of lemon peel

    The Negroni sbagliato

    The “wrong” Negroni is made with almost equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and prosecco. Also served over ice, it tastes close to the original but has less of a kick.

    1 part Campari
    1 part sweet vermouth
    1.5 parts prosecco
    Orange slice

    The Aperol Negroni

    Using Campari’s daughter brand, Aperol, creates an easy-drinking and (unsurprisingly) rather orangey alternative.

    1 part Aperol
    1 part sweet vermouth
    1 part gin
    Orange slice

    The Americano

    The Negroni’s forerunner is still an excellent drink in it’s own right, especially for those who like their booze, well, a little less boozy.

    1 part Campari
    1 part sweet vermouth
    1.5 parts soda
    Twist of orange peel

    Negroni 2

    Negroni 4

    negroni 9

  • Tapas at the Cookery School

    The few roads north of Oxford Circus are some of the most discordant in London, stuck in-between the chain-store tat of Londoners’ most hated mile and Marylebone’s bijou boutiques. But with the Wallace Collection, Zoilo and the Riding House Café all hidden away here, I find myself fighting through the melee increasingly often.

    I had been aware for a while that this patch is also home to the Cookery School. I’d perused their website on several occasions, but never quite made a booking. Blame it on cramming for the terrifying WSET exam, which satisfied my thirst for culinary knowledge at least temporarily. With several kitchen disasters under my belt since then (including a spectacular exploding earl grey and chocolate torte), it became clear my cooking skills needed a bit of work to catch up with my boozing abilities. So, I jumped at the chance to attend the Cookery School’s tapas class two weeks ago. 

    The “classroom” is a little smaller than you might expect, just a ground-level shop space off Little Portland Street. Inside, three spotless, stainless steel high tables are set out in front of a small professional kitchen, with a slanted mirror above to make sure everyone can see the stove.

    Cookery School stove

    Cookery School setting

    We were welcomed with a glass of Xarel-lo (a zingy Spanish white; one of the three varietals traditionally used in Cava production), which aided the necessary awkward introductions. This is a great place to come alone: all but two of our group were solo.

    From the ingredients  lined up at the side and our personally named aprons, it became pretty clear that this was going to be a hands-on session. And no sooner than glasses were drained, the bread-making began. Pre-proofed dough was divvied out between us so we could try to master the baker’s technique of whirling it around whilst tucking the edges to create a neat roll.

    Fingers limbered-up and first jokes cracked, we split into groups to each work on one of the tapas dishes. The word tapas, as I have now learnt, derives from the saucers traditionally placed atop drinks to protect them. Proprietors would place a little amuse bouche on each saucer, and from this humble beginning, tapas gradually became fancier and fancier.

    On the menu were:

    • “rustic” bread rolls
    • chorizo and chicory salad (courtesy of Moro)
    • potato tortilla
    • patatas bravas
    • pimientos de padron
    • orange and almond cake




    While we worked in three groups, everyone crowded around to watch and taste when anything was taken to the stove. The dishes were perhaps a little conventional (I would have loved to have seen croquetas or some killer garlic and chilli prawns), but it was the technical advice that stuck in my mind at the end of the day: how to crush garlic with the flat blade of a knife, working through the clove and adding salt for traction; how to tuck in your fingers when chopping, so the knife grazes your knuckle rather then removing a fingertip; and how much salt we should really have each day (a lot, if you ask me).


    After an hour and a half of cooking, while we were busily blackening pimientos de pardon (a Galician classic), the work tables were whipped out of the way and a communal table was laid for dinner. Wine was poured, plates were loaded and I was taken by surprise by the the food. Even the tortilla, which will never be my first choice, was rich and moist. It’s the orange and almond cakes though, that I’ll be rushing to recreate.

    Maybe it was the second glass of Xarel-lo, but I left the class enthused. I was impressed by the standard of teaching, the quality of the ingredients and the structure of the afternoon. The group meal was particularly effective at bringing the class to a leisurely conclusion.



    You can find details of all the Cookery School’s classes and courses online here. I found the level, aimed at the serious home cook, spot-on.

    Disclosure: I was kindly invited to attend this class.