By Chrissie Walker
Opium in Chinatown
London’s Chinatown is broadly found between Shaftesbury Avenue to the north and Lisle Street to the south. It’s not far from Leicester Square and Theatreland. It’s a neighbourhood with a long history stretching back to the Great Fire of 1666 in which much of London was destroyed. In 1677 Lord Gerrard, the owner of the area, gave permission to a developer to build on land which had, till then, been used for farming.
This became Soho, a corner of which we know today as Chinatown. Opium isn’t a bar for the feeble of limb. It has a staircase more associated with a lighthouse than a drinking hole. The deep red walls and the perfume of incense sticks combine to present an expectation of something truly exotic at the top of those stairs. Those expectations will be realised.
We tasted a few of the signature drinks skilfully concocted by Barman Pedro Sequeira: Opium #6 - Opium cup made with Olmeca altos tequila, cactus, pimiento, ginger, oolong tea, served with a fog of dry ice in a Mate gourd with metal Bombilla straws. This is perhaps the most dramatic and atmospheric cocktail you will ever have and it’s certainly one of the best I have tasted anywhere. It’s the fresh ginger that brings so much to this mix. Definitely order this one, and I would have to say it’s so good that it would be worth trying even if it was served in a glass tumbler without the drifts of vapour.
Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour
The Jade Door
15-16 Gerrard Street
London W1D 6JE
Dukes Hotel and Bar
There are many great hotels in London. There is a host of memorable boutique hotels in London. There are several with stylish bars in London. There is only one Dukes Bar in the whole world.
One finds Dukes Hotel tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet side street in St James’s. It has the best of addresses, nestled between St James’s Palace and Piccadilly. It’s a beauty in red brick. It’s an icon of period architecture, and even a first glimpse will encourage the visitor to expect something special within.
One takes a seat (best to reserve) and peruses the extensive menu of classic cocktails, but it would be a gross oversight to order anything, at least on the inaugural visit, other than a Martini – and the tutored will want to try the Vesper Martini. Shortly you will be joined by a barman in a white linen jacket and if you are blessed it will be Alessandro Palazzi who, in his field, is as celebrated as the hotel itself.
This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny first drew breath at the Stock Exchange? Was Dr No inspired by a dodgy practice in Harley Street?
Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request, 'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken. That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol! The cocktail trolley will park next to your table and it’s a chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.
Dukes Hotel and Bar
St. James's Place
London SW1A 1NY
One might not have heard of Anise Bar but it’s likely the discerning diner will have heard of Cinnamon Kitchen by Vivek Singh. Perhaps one might not have heard of Devonshire Square but everyone has heard of the City of London. There are associations with India in the very fabric of the buildings here.
Between 1768 and 1820 the East India Company built warehouses on this land for their flourishing Asian trade. Those warehouses stored raw silks and textiles from India. In the 1830s the warehouses were sold to the St Katharine Dock Company, and at the start of the 20th century they were bought by the Port of London Authority. Clocks, oriental rugs, all manner of exotic goods and tea were all stored here. But by the 1950s most of the tea business had been moved to the London Dock, and the space was then used to store other beverages such as wine, port and sherry. The warehouses closed in the late 70s with the advent of shipping containers.
Installation of the high and impressive roof over the Western Courtyard is a feature of this contemporary and striking refurbishment. The original brick façades still remain although those bricks, which have seen so much haulage activity, have been cleaned to a soft honey colour. A unique open space has been created which is usable all year round.
Cinnamon Kitchen has a beautiful vista over this piazza. It has dining inside and out, and there is Anise Bar and Lounge attached, which is a classy entity in its own right and is becoming the watering hole of choice for savvy city workers and for those who have discovered this to be a Destination Bar.
Anise is a bar offering, perhaps, a soupçon of the East. Talented Bar Manager Rafa Santi hails from Brazil where, I hear, they have a tradition of excellent cocktails. This man has a quick laugh, professional flair and inspiration. He presents classic as well as House cocktails which draw on flavours of Asia. For instance Asian Sour Apple - Zubrowka vodka, apple sake, fresh lime and apple juice - would be tempting for this Japanese sake lover, as would Spiced Plum Saketini - Bombay Sapphire, plum wine, sake and galangal. Sake is trending!
9 Devonshire Square
London EC2M 4YL
Mele e Pere Bar
Mele e Pere, one of my favourite restaurants in Soho, has a bespoke Vermouth bar. Yes, every bar in the capital will have a bottle or two of this fortified wine but here it’s the main beverage. Vermouthier-in-chief Ed Scothern, who is also the enthusiastic and animated General Manager, conducts regular Vermouth masterclasses which are both popular and fun. He discusses the history and composition of this drink but he also shows how you could make Vermouth yourself. In fact that’s just what you will be doing at the end of the evening!
Ed takes you through the blending process and a tasting of a wide variety of styles, and will ply you with your favourite vermouth-based cocktails or perhaps introduce you to some new ones. You will see how Mele e Pere uses different vermouths in both classic and signature house cocktails. You will be supplied with an array of small bottles of the aromatised alcohol and glasses of sweetened white wine and be given the chance to design your own unique and hopefully delicious Vermouth.
Tickets for each evening cost £25 and include some of Mele e Pere’s most popular sharing plates such as spicy Ascolana olives (to which I am addicted), deep fried squid with smoked aioli, and San Daniele ham – and, trust me, they will tempt you to return to sample the rest of the menu.
You can build your own Negronis and Martinis by choosing from perhaps London's biggest selection of Vermouths and Mele e Pere’s diverse range of Gins and Vodkas, produced by some of the UK's most individual micro-distilleries.
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
London W1F 9TF