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Where to drink London’s best cocktails

With one of the most deliciously diverse food and drink scenes in the world, London is home to an astounding array of cocktails, from finely tuned classics to state-of-the-art serves. In time for Valentine’s Day, beverage guru Kathleen Johnson samples the cream of the crop from across the city

30/09/2021Fact-checked 20/12/2022

Disco Inferno! at Bandra Bhai

Indian-inspired cooking plays an integral role in British food culture, so much so that curry (itself an anglicised term) is a top contender for national dish, with hundreds of modern establishments in London now offering inventive cocktails influenced by the continent alongside authentic regional dishes and adapted crowd-pleasers. Tastiest of all is the Disco Inferno! at Bandra Bhai, a Bombay-style basement bar under Pali Hill restaurant in Fitzrovia. A blend of cardamom-infused vodka and mango, it’s an addictively refreshing, chilli-spiked tribute to Bappi Lahiri, the king of Indian disco. 

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International Orange at The Painter’s Room 

With cocktails inspired by artists’ colour palettes, Claridge’s new bar, which sits on the ground floor of the Art Deco landmark and pays tribute to the 1930s, features a striking installation from British artist Annie Morris that nods to the relationship between bars and artists. As always with London’s grande dame hotel, attention to detail is at the heart of proceedings. The very red International Orange is a striking mix of Waterford Irish Whiskey, Mancino Rosso, cherry, maple, citrus and egg white.

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Lowball at Kol’s Mezcaleria 

Headed up by chef Santiago Lastra of Noma Mexico fame, Kol is the most talked-about British opening of the past three years, promising elevated Mexican fare made from seasonal, homegrown ingredients. Downstairs you’ll find The Mezcaleria, offering one of Europe’s widest selections of Mexican and agave spirits, with a particular focus on spirit-of-the-moment mezcal. For proof of London’s world-leading, wildly diverse cocktail culture, look no further than the extraordinary lowball. Showcasing mezcal in all its complex, smoky glory, it adds chilli Ayuuk to seriously memorable effect. 

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Keep Marm and Carry on at Cahoots

Get swept up in the spirit of post-war London at the city’s very best concept bar, Cahoots, an immersive extravaganza fuelled by 1940s-inspired cocktails that is as much of a must-visit as the museums. Modelled on a London Underground station turned air raid shelter turned speakeasy, the three-room venue is like its own cinematic universe, complete with an old Tube carriage, Cockney-accented ‘scoundrels’ as staff and eccentric vintage decorations. The drinks, too, are like props, served in old mugs, hip flasks and tins. Make yours the Keep Marm and Carry On, a Cahoots classic that mixes vodka with bergamot liqueur and citrus jam. 

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Serenity at Stables Bar

The Netherlands may technically be the birthplace of gin, but London’s love affair with the spirit stretches all the way back to the 1600s. Ealing Gin, distilled in its namesake leafy western suburb, is one of the few genuinely hand-crafted, small batch gins still produced here and is used as the base for Angelo Lo Greco’s dangerously delicious Serenity at the Stables Bar, a properly British bolthole in the Milestone Hotel that draws on the similarly quintessential tradition of horse racing and boasts views across Kensington Palace Gardens. 

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Lucky Negroni at Beaufort Bar

Sure, The Savoy’s American Bar is world famous, but just as dazzling is the iconic hotel’s Beaufort Bar, a black and gold space by Covent Garden, where science meets magic with a list of show-stopping serves. As well as delectable signature cocktails such as Halo Highball, the bar does a nice line in sustainable cocktails centred on low-waste, low-carbon spirit production. The Lucky Negroni combines gin sourced in partnership with ecoSpirits with Matsui Umeshu, Campari, and Sipello infused with The Plum, I Suppose. Just wow. 

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Earth Martini at Three Sheets

Diminutive Dalston bar Three Sheets is everything a proper neighbourhood haunt should be, offering locals and in-the-know visitors a taste of East London’s no-frills attitude but exemplary service. The little gem has featured on the 50 Best Bars in the World list for the past three years running, an achievement that is down to a tireless inventiveness best displayed, at present on the seasonally rotating menu, by the Earth Martini, which harnesses vodka, beetroot, olive oil and dry vermouth to delight theatrically minded cocktail enthusiasts and weary traditionalists alike. 

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Irish coffee at Swift

Swift’s celebrated Irish coffee put this award-winning bar on the map when it opened in 2016 and has since become its signature serve, both at the original, two-floor aperitivo site in Soho and now the newly opened all-day affair in East London. Crafted from only four ingredients, the Jameson Caskmates whiskey-laced, carefully temperature-controlled coffee is blanketed with hand-whipped double cream and dusted with nutmeg, making for some seriously satisfying theatre in chic, Art Deco-inspired surroundings. At £10, it also shows that a five-star experience doesn’t have to be eye-wateringly expensive. 

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A martini at Dukes Bar

Not only is this legendary Mayfair den (opening image) a purveyor of the finest martini on the planet, it’s also where regular Sir Ian Fleming is said to have decided that James Bond’s favourite cocktail would be “shaken not stirred” more than six decades ago. Mixed to order tableside by white-jacketed gentlemen from the famous Dukes trolley, these 007-worthy tipples are British bar glamour at its most old school and sophisticated. Be warned, however – they are notoriously, lethally strong, just as good martinis should be. You won’t need more than two. 

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One Sip Martini at Tayēr + Elementary

Ask London’s top mixologists about the cleverest drink in the city and the answer is almost always Tayēr + Elementary’s trademark One Sip Martini. Made from vodka, vermouth, fino sherry and garnished with a giant Gorgonzola-stuffed olive, the tiny aperitif perfectly encapsulates the playful spirit of this ultra-trendy Shoreditch spot, which is as popular with hipster locals as it is critics (it was crowned the fifth best bar in the world for 2020). It’s walk-ins only, so turn up early to bag a seat at the minimalist bar and get stuck into the rotating riffs on classic cocktails served from taps. 

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