London is famous for its grand hotels, and names like Claridge’s, The Ritz and The Dorchester are synonymous with five-star luxury and glamour. Almost as famous are the bars these hotels house, honey pots to the rich and famous and many, like the Savoy, with a historic link to the world of cocktails. In a continuing series, I explore the hotel bars of London and see if their reputations are deserved.
One of London’s finest hotels for over 150 years Claridge’s boasts a rich history, hosting everyone from exiled royalty during World War II to golden-age film stars in the 50s and 60s. Its most famous food and drink attraction now is probably Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred restaurant, but I wasn’t there for haute cuisine.
The Claridge’s Bar is another work of David Collins, who appears to command a virtual monopoly on the design of hotel bars in London. Combining the original art-deco architecture with touches like rich red leather seating and a silver-leafed ceiling the bar certainly looks the part, though it has to be said the tall bar stools are a little too high compared to the bar making it not the most comfortable I’ve experienced.
The menu features a wide selection of wines, champagnes and spirits, including the requisite fine Scotches and Cognacs as well as a reasonable selection of rum – something that often seems curiously neglected at hotel bars. The cocktail list was exclusively modern in its recipes, a great deal involving vodka. Nonetheless there were some interesting choices to be found.
I started with an Original Sin, a mixture of fresh lime and apple, plus bourbon, honey and Campari. Well shaken and fine strained in to a chilled cocktail glass, it was excellently prepared although ingredients went unmeasured. Unfortunately this seemed to result in a cocktail that was a little too dominated by the Campari, a real shame as the other ingredients worked together well and had the potential to be nicer than it turned out.
Not really spotting much else on the menu that took my fancy I decided to go for a classic Pegu Club next. The barman happily took my order, and after serving two customers who ordered after me eventually began to make my drink. I was a little surprised to see him stirring my drink, but that was nothing compared to my shock when the drink that was poured out was completely translucent.
One quick sip identified that lime juice was missing, resulting in a quite odd mixture that was nothing like a Pegu Club. At first I thought it might have been a mistake, but given that the barman explicitly stirred the drink it suggests he never intended to add it. He was busy serving a newly arrived crowd by the time I realised what had happened so I didn’t get a chance to speak to him about it, and perhaps it was an honest mistake with a drink that wasn’t on the menu. However given the venue, the fame of the drink in question, and the prices being paid, it seemed a fairly major mistake to make.
Even ignoring the Pegu Club issue I was disappointed with Claridge’s Bar. The cocktail menu is fairly uninspired and my overall impression was of a pretty average bar; something which might be excused if it wasn’t charging £11 a cocktail. With much better hotel bars like The Connaught and The Dorchester just around the corner, and places like Milk and Honey and Quo Vadis not far away in Soho, I really can’t recommend Claridge’s Bar – for cocktails anyway…
Claridge’s Bar is located at 55 Brook Street, Mayfair. Open 12pm to 1am Monday – Saturday. 12pm to 12am Sundays.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7409 6307
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