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 the first of a new series, I explore the hotel bars of London and see if their reputations are deserved.
Formerly known as the American Bar, the Connaught Bar is newly reopened as part of recent multimillion pound renovation of the historic Connaught Hotel with Ago Perrone, previously of Montgomery Place in Notting Hill, at the helm. Inspired by the original Edwardian architecture and by English Cubist and Irish 1920s art, designer David Collins has created an elegant, luxurious space with light, textured walls and dark, comfortable furniture.
Located in the heart of Mayfair the Connaught Bar has its own entrance on Mount Street that leads directly to the rear tables. I usually like to sit at the bar but the Connaught doesn’t feature any stool seating, so I settled in at one of the two-dozen or so tables that fill the room. The hostess quickly arrived with bar snacks and a small complementary drink – some kind of fruity number that was sweet but pleasant – and I dove in to the drinks menu to decide what to start off with.
The menu is split in to several categories of drink, including “revisted”, “seasonal” and “fusion”, and feature a wide variety of spirits, juices, infusions and bitters. While they are almost exclusively modern creations a great many have their roots in classic Crusta, Sour and Collins drinks. Usually when browsing menus of new drinks I have real trouble deciding what to have, but this time my problem wasn’t what to have, but what to start with.
In the end I went for a Camomile Crusta, a mixture of Calvados, curaçao, maraschino, Galliano L’Authentico, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters and camomile flowers, shaken and strained in to a old-fashioned glass filled with a giant chunk of ice. The resulting drink had an intense and wonderfully floral flavour and despite the large number of strongly flavoured ingredients everything hung together very nicely.
To cut a long story short I wound up enjoying my time at the Connaught so much I stayed for another four drinks: The Connaught Collins (using Beefeater 24 and a mixture of house bitters), the Pisco Punch (Pisco, Chartreuse, honey water, apricot liqueur, papaya, pineapple and lime, finished by flaming Angostura bitters over the top), the Bloody Mary (fairly standard recipe elevated by what Ago calls “celery air”), and the French Sin (Armagnac, Noilly Ambre, Rooibos spiced soda water, vanilla sugar, lemon juice and half a fig).
I’m often wary of drinks filled to the brim with ingredients, partly because at heart I’m a classicist when it comes to cocktails and partly because it takes real skill to balance out drinks with so many strong flavours going on. However any concern was quickly dismissed after my first cocktail. Thankfully Ago and his team are more than capable of handling the task, and every one of their creations I had was truly delicious.
At around £15 a cocktail the Connaught Bar isn’t a cheap place to drink, but that goes with the territory of hotel bars. However with impeccable service and great drinks, plus little touches like receiving small recipe cards of each drink you’ve had when you pay the bill, they provide a lot more than many hotel bars do for the same money. I very much look forward to visiting again and trying more of the drinks on the menu. Highly recommended.
Connaught Bar is located at 16 Carlos Place, Mayfair (direct entrance on Mount Street). Open 4pm to 1am Monday – Saturday. Closed Sundays.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7499 7070
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