London is famous for its grand hotels, and names like Claridge’s and The Ritz 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.
An homage to the British photographer Terence Donovan, The Donovan Bar is a contemporary space with an upmarket yet subtle feel. Decorated with over fifty prints from the eponymous artist, the furniture features black leather and dark checks which are offset by a medium-brown wooden floor. The fairly small bar features a stained glass window and a beautiful marble topped bar, surrounded by a modest six stools.
The bar menu features a good selection of rums and other spirits, and the back bar featured plenty of decent and unusual spirits and liqueurs. Cocktails ranged from the classics to the more modern ‘Tinis, but there are plenty of decent sounding drinks. The free bar snacks are also pretty decent, with delicious vegetable crisps, mixed nuts and olives that ensure you won’t be drinking on an entirely empty stomach.
My visit was made after a hectic few hours attempting to shop on Oxford Street the weekend before Christmas, so I was in need of a strong, bracing drink when I arrived at The Donovan Bar and quickly ordered a Manhattan. The bartender immediately enquired as to my preference for ratios of whiskey to vermouth, and whether I wanted rye or bourbon, and then swiftly made a fine stirred cocktail. Made with Sazerac rye and Martini and Rossi, it was a little softer than my usual Rittenhouse/Antica mix but it was nonetheless delicious.
Next up I went for a new concoction called the Añejo Cascade, a mix of Pampero Especial, fresh basil, lemon, blackberries and caramel syrup. The drink was shaken well, if not for very long, and fine strained in to a chilled cocktail glass which was garnished with a lemon zest twist and a raspberry. It was nicely balanced, with a delicious fruitiness which was followed with a lovely aromatic caramel finish.
At this point I really should have headed back to the hectic world of shopping in London at Christmas, but my bar stool was far too comfortable, and another cocktail far too enticing. Risking a repeat of Claridges, I asked the bartender for a Pegu Club. It wasn’t on the menu, and he wasn’t familiar with it, but once I had supplied a rough recipe list he was happy to mix it up, even going so far as to taste it and make a slight addition of Cointreau to make sure it tasted just right.
Overall I was fairly impressed with The Donovan Bar. The fashionable yet subtle surroundings encourage a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, and the service is keen and attentive with bartenders who are genuinely interested in what they are doing. The drinks menu isn’t the most innovative in London, but it is perfectly respectable and features some very decent drinks. It’s a place I look forward to returning to again, and as such comes recommended.
The Donovan Bar is located at Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, Mayfair. Open 11am to 1am Monday – Saturday. 12pm to 12am Sundays.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7493 6020
If you liked this, the barman recommends...