Where To Sip – London [The Traveling Bite]
When I first started Little Word Bites, I scheduled my weekly posts for Sunday evenings because it was the one day every week I knew I would be home, cozy in my pajamas, with my pictures edited and the time to write. Somehow, Sundays have become one of my busiest days of the week.
This past weekend, I had the extraordinary good fortune to be sent across the pond with my best friend, Heather. Our assignment? Not to eat London, but to drink it.
As a seeker of all things healthy and delicious, London’s finest cocktails were a challenge I was excited to take on. From Friday morning until our Virgin Atlantic flight landed back on New York tarmac Monday evening, it was one beautiful British bar after another. My trip had two main purposes: To visit the historic Berry Brothers & Rudd fine wine and spirit merchant in the heart of London’s posh Mayfair neighborhood, and to enjoy their famed No.3 London Dry Gin in a martini crafted by the master from Dukes Hotel. And second, to visit the recently-opened Clubino Piano Bar; a sultry, intimate jazz joint beneath the Baglioni Hotel at Hyde Park, open to hotel guests and private members.
My mission was clear – enjoy the finest spirits in the city without drinking London completely dry. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years at Little Word Bites, it’s that the best way to tackle indulgence is to do so with moderation. As I mentioned in a past New Year’s Resolution post, sticking with clear liquors is a safer, healthier bet – as is avoiding sugary, complicated cocktails. And while this holds true, the most important piece of advice is to order the drink you truly want, and enjoy it fully. Whether it’s a clean gin martini or a fancy, glittering gold cocktail, if you’re going to have a drink – make it worthwhile.
Recommended Sips: When in London, the Berry Bros & Rudd shop should absolutely be a destination – both for selecting a fine bottle of wine, as well as learning some of London’s lesser-known history. Peruse the high-end selection and notice the enormous weighing scale, where visitors once went to get weighed (you can still read the handwritten records in the exhaustive collection of leatherbacks) as well as the typed letter from the White Star Line, of the famed Titanic, apologizing for the loss of 69 cases of wine due to the tragedy. The letter, dated April 15, 1912, is marked with a black line, though no mention is made of the true scale of the tragedy. Berry Brothers & Rudd is a noted supplier for the Royal Family, as well as other distinguished lords, ladies, and celebrities.
Don’t depart the shop without picking up a bottle of The King’s Ginger: a liqueur crafted in 1903 specifically to help King Edward VII warm and healthy during his brisk winter rides.
A Little Note: Ginger root has 2,000-year history of being used as a medicinal ingredient. While most noted for its ability to cure nausea and calm an upset stomach, it is often used to boost the metabolism and has even been suggested as a natural remedy for high cholesterol.
The Not-So-Good Sip: No trip to London is complete without a Pimm’s Cup, in my opinion. This traditional English cocktail utilizes Pimm’s No. 1 Cup (one of England’s most iconic liqueurs, a gin-based spirit with a zesty spiced-fruit flavor) fresh fruit, mint, and – traditionally – lemonade. Heather and I sipped the first Pimm’s Cups of the weekend at Borough Market. Still one of my favorite destinations in London for sampling fine artisanal foods, it’s not the best place for a drink. Save this sip instead for a true tall glass (no plastic cups and straws) and order it strong, with ginger beer instead of lemonade. While no less sugary, I love the kick from the ginger beer (and would gladly argue for its homeopathic ginger qualities) and this drink is a pleasurable option for a lower-cal cocktail. Add in the edible fruit garnishes and refreshing mint, and (in theory) this drink is good choice for health-conscious travelers.
The Good Sip: Tucked below street level is the newest addition to London’s exuberant nightlife: Clubino Piano Bar. The latest in Luca del Bono’s upscale portfolio of international restaurants and private clubs, this venue is perfect for a romantic evening out (or, in my case, a romantic evening with your best friend). Start in the bar, with a glass of prosecco, or one of the venue’s premier cocktails. The space is a nod to 50’s and 60’s New York jazz clubs, but the menu is full-on classic Italian. After watching a set of live music – perhaps jazz revisionings of popular contemporary songs – grab your drink and glide over to the dining room, where you can feast on everything from light spring vegetable salads to a whole branzino, baked in bread crumbs and filleted tableside. (For dinner, I enjoyed the shaved artichoke salad with Parmesan, tomatoes, cucumbers, and rocket, followed by a bowl of cream-free butternut squash soup). After 9, the club shifts from classic piano and vocal performances to a live DJ. If you’re standing up to dance, make sure to stop by the far left wall for a closer look at the Chinoiserie-inspired mural of Kensington Gardens. The illustrations are whimsical and irreverent, and a sharp eye can catch a peek of Monsieur George; the little bird named for the Royal Prince, and Clubino’s memorable mascot.
A Little Tip: Not a member? Not staying at the Baglioni? Stop by the Baglioni’s garden-view bar for a traditional Italian apertivo instead. Order a classic Negroni for a crisp, refreshing counterpart to the olives and breadsticks.
The Best Sip: Right around the corner from No 3. St. James’s Street (Berry Bros & Rudd) is Dukes Hotel, one of the city’s most respected boutique hotels – and home to one of the world’s most respected martinis. Grab a seat in the sophisticated, quintessentially English lounge, with its plush chairs, lacquered wood tables, and historic portraits. A favorite haunt of James Bond author Ian Fleming, its a bustling, cozy spot full from the opening hour until late at night with in-the-know locals and lucky hotel guests. Order a gin martini – extra dry – with a twist, and look for martini master Alessandro Palazzi to appear around the corner with his storied bar cart, sufficiently stocked with No. 3 London Dry Gin, vermouth, and a bounty of enormous Amalfi Coast lemons. Nosh on bar snacks while Palazzi performs the nearly lost-art of this pure and simple cocktail (the surprisingly heart-healthy trifecta of bar snacks includes wafer-thin rice crackers, roasted premium nuts, and enormous green olives). The slender martinis, in their icy, frosted glasses are smooth, and best sipped slowly, over a pleasant conversation between friends; or a passing summer shower.
A Little Note: Learn to pour the perfect martini at Palazzi’s martini masterclass. This exclusive experience will teach you to craft expert gin martinis (as well as other classic cocktails) with the skill of a true English barman.
Other Sips: London has a reputation for good, strong drinks. But with new, attention-grabbing bars such as Berners Tavern at the new London EDITION hotel in East London (order the Dill or No Dill with gin, cucumber, dill, lemon juice, St. Germain, and smoked salt) the respected mainstay 1901 at the Andaz on Liverpool St., (signature cocktails represent the cities that boast Andaz hotels around the world. Heather toasted to our host-city with the Andaz Liverpool “Jack’s Martini,” which was similar in profile to the Dill or No Dill. I raised my glass to Andaz 5th Avenue, and my beautiful amazing home in New York.
This strong sip mixed Pimm’s with Spiced Rum, Bergamot, Lemon, and Allspice in the most elegant martini glass I have ever laid eyes on) there were no shortage of fantastic drinks to fuel our jam-packed weekend abroad. The weekend ended at Dishoom Shoreditch, a restaurant lauded by Travel + Leisure editors both in-book and in-office. While waiting in line, you may have the good fortune to sample Dishoom’s Bombay Pimm’s, with saffron gin, pomegranate citrus, and coriander – in addition to the regular fixings. Add a splash of sparkling wine for an extra kick.
On our final night in London, Heather and I took an escalator up to the 32nd floor of The Shard – home to numerous bars, restaurants, the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, and a breathtaking view of London – for farewell drinks. There, towering over Tower Bridge and all of central London, we sipped our effervescent champagne martinis, with lemongrass, Tanqueray, lime, and a glittering gold dust that rose and fell with every sip.
Until we drink together again, London.