VOC is a really interesting little hole-in-the-wall type of place. It’s in what is billed the Regent Quarter in King’s Cross in a courtyard shared with Spanish restaurant and bar Camino and its sister bar Pepito. VOC stands for Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, which translates as the Dutch East India Company, and the menu reflects that heritage with plenty of punches and other old-time drinks. The USP at VOC is the small wooden casks and wax-sealed glass bottles that sit above and behind the bar – they contain grogs and punches, aged cocktails and various other quirky concoctions and infusions. Try Genever aged in new oak with tea, lemon oils, bitters, cloves and honey; or arrack (a palm-derived spirit) with coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon and sugar; or gin with porter, horseradish, apple, vanilla sugar and spices. It’s experimental and modern and yet old in terms of its heritage.
Happiness Forgets Hoxton Square boasts a new bar called Happiness Forgets (it’s a lyric from a Dionne Warwick song). You’ll have to look carefully to find it – it’s in the basement with only a pavement blackboard to make its presence. Once you’re in, you’ll find a dark, candle-lit space with small groups of low seats. It’s run by a bartender who spent some months in New York’s Pegu Club, and he uses his connections to host talented bartenders from both sides of the Atlantic in guest ‘residencies’. So what to drink? Short lists are a definite trend and here you’ll find just 11 twisted classics, alongside a short list of wines (four red, four white, one rose, three sparkling), two lagers, one ale and a cider. Cocktails are £7 or £8 and range from the female friendly Pink Lady – gin, sloe gin, dry sherry, lemon, sugar, bitters and egg white – to the manly Harry Palmer – rye whiskey, Suze and sweet vermouth.
The Brompton Bar and Grill Bar
The Brompton Bar and Grill Bar in Knightsbridge has just opened a bijou absinthe bar in its basement. It’s not got the biggest selection of absinthe, but it’s small range can each be served in the traditional way with an absinthe fountain. It’s a great way of getting to know the green fairy: iced water drips on to a sugar cube, placed on a slotted spoon that’s sat on your choice of absinthe until you’ve diluted these supremely strong spirits. There are also four absinthe cocktails on offer, ranging from £8.50 to £9, which are assembled at a small zinc-topped bar – twists on a Daiquiri, Caipirinha and Whisky Sour, with Hemingway’s favourite, the Death in the Afternoon, heading the list. If absinthe is really not your thing, there’s a range of other classic cocktails available too.
Roux at the Pembury
Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux has had a restaurant in Parliament Square for years, and now it’s got a bar to match. A contemporary styled lounge bar on the first floor has high ceilings, comfy chesterfield sofas, thick carpets, views of Her Majesty’s Treasury across the road and the sound of Big Ben’s bongs from across the square. It’s called Roux at the Pembury, which references Michel's birthplace in Kent. Choose from a simple list of 12 cocktails arranged as 'Hors d'oeuvres', 'Plats principaux' and 'Désert' – original and interesting twists on classic cocktails. Try the Pembury Cup, a drier version of a Pimm's Cup with gin, coriander, watermelon and champagne, or the Colonial Flip - rum with a Guinness reduction. Drinks are surprisingly good value given its fancy location at £8-9 each, and you might see Lady Thatcher at the next table.
Quince is a new fine-dining restaurant with a Mediterranean inspired menu and its own bar. It’s at the plush May Fair Hotel across the lobby from the celebrities-favourite the May Fair Bar. It’s a good-looking space and, unlike many restaurant bars, this isn’t just a service bar or a holding area for people waiting for their table to be ready, but a luxurious bar with table service. Think luxurious fabrics, fancy feature lighting and diamond-shaped glass – it’s all designed by the same guy behind the Club at The Ivy. The drinks reflect the flavours on the menu, with pomegranate, jasmine, cinnamon and, of course, quince flavours, many which come with specially imported edible flowers as garnishes.
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms has turned a tired old boozer into a swanky pub near Barbican in the City of London. Inside, it’s a fresh, bright and light bar with a restaurant attached – it’s owned by the same guys behind The Botanist in Sloane Square and The Gun in Docklands. You can still get a pint but it’s more about the cocktails here, many of which are made with quintessentially British fruits and homegrown herbs and serious spirits including Somerset apple brandy. The menu covers a good range of sweet and sour drinks, sparkling cocktails, fruity Martinis and more serious, shorter, stiffer drinks. Alongside the cocktails is a long wine list and a selection of craft beers among some bigger-name brews.
This bar’s not new but we were intrigued by Pearl’s new range of ‘salad’ cocktails. You might think it a little gimmicky but actually the bar team have worked with the Holborn venue’s award-winning chef Jun Tanaka to come up with three incredibly authentic liquid interpretations of classic salads. The Waldorf Salad combines home-infused walnut vodka with celery and is served with a side of grape jelly, walnuts and celery sticks; the Greek Salad fuses gin with a delicate tomato consommé and cucumber-water ice cubes alongside a small amuse bouche of feta and olives; and the Thai Salad mixes homemade chilli-infused cachaça with tropical fruits and comes with a fine Thai noodle salad and crushed peanuts. We thought the Greek was the best – as the cucumber ice melts the drink changes in character, and it genuinely tastes like eating a Greek salad. Really delicious drinks that challenge convention – though be prepared for the £13 each hotel prices.