73-75 Union Street, London, SE1 1SG
A recent addition to pedestrianised Flat Iron Square, Est India’s self-proclaimed ‘modern urban feel’ translates as bare walls, wooden furniture, long tables and cosy booths for intimate
get-togethers. The cooking shows its debt to the subcontinent’s street food with dosas, naan rolls, puffs, utthapam and small plates (perhaps deep-fried corn and potato tikki), before offering
various tandooris, biryanis and regional specialities such as Bengali prawn curry, Kashmiri palak lamb with spinach or a desi burger. There are some genuine desserts too, including keer (rice
pudding), syrupy gulab jamon dumplings and gajjar halwa (carrot cake) – plus kulfi on a stick. All-in tiffin menus (£7.95) are ideal for relaxed business lunches, and there are some fragrant and
spicy teas if the short international wine list doesn’t appeal.
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11 Langley Street, London, WC2H 9JG
“The best steak in London, by a mile”, declares one reader, and we have to agree. The beefy Hawksmoor chain somehow manages to get everything right, from its glorious 35-day-aged steaks supplied by The Ginger Pig to its creative cocktails – all presented by staff with a genuine passion for service. It's easy to understand why there are now six branches in the capital (and another in Manchester), though this atmospheric site in the old barrel-vaulted Watney Combe Brewery is one of our favourites. Start with Old Spot belly ribs or sweetly caramelised roast scallops with white port and garlic, before taking your pick of the beefy cuts chalked up by weight on blackboards. Perfectly crisp triple-cooked chips, gut-busting macaroni cheese or grilled bone marrow make happy companions, but we urge saving some space for the addictive salted caramel Rolos too. The comfortable bar deals in burgers and lobster rolls as well as brilliant drinks, though between the hours of 3pm and 5pm Monday-Friday, you can dine from the full a la carte menu when booking in advance. Sunday lunch sees roast rump of Longhorn beef with all the trimmings for Sunday lunch. “Great for big groups and for couples”, notes one fan.
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Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
With Heston Blumenthal’s name attached and a menu of eye-catching dishes that play with our perceptions of British cookery, Dinner was always going to be a hit with London’s gastro-tourists, and there are plenty of reasons for them to leave feeling satisfied – not least the beautiful daytime view of Hyde Park, the fun of the nitro-fuelled ice cream cart and the switched-on staff.
“Attention to detail is second to none”, observes a fan. Even if you don’t buy into the restaurant’s date-stamped reinterpretation of historical recipes, there’s a formidable cornucopia of gastronomic delights to relish – from the ‘meat fruit’ (c.1500) disguised as a mandarin with subtle citrus notes to the soft, juicy ‘tipsy cake’ (c.1810) with spit-roast pineapple. Also brace yourself for other extraordinary conceits ranging from ‘sherried’ scallop tartare with mushroom broth to chicken ‘oysters’ invigorated with horseradish cream and pickled walnuts. Sides are not to be sniffed at either – the mash is among the creamiest we’ve tasted. Obviously, such a “luxurious experience” doesn’t come cheap (especially if you commit to the wine flights), although set lunches offer a more accommodating prospect. Either way, prepare to be astonished.
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1-5 West Street, London, WC2H 9NQ
Celebrating its centenary in 2017, The Ivy is a celeb-friendly fixture of the glamorous West End scene. Yet, behind the iconic harlequin stained glass, the old girl certainly isn't showing her age – thanks to a glittering 2015 makeover that gave pride of place to a beautiful vintage-styled bar. Although the hype around the refurb has died down, there's still a warm glow of approval from readers, who praise the "utterly impeccable" service, "unflappable staff" and "buzzy, not noisy" atmosphere. The eclectic menu is a winning mix of Ivy perennials such as the "truly wonderful" crispy duck salad and classic shepherd's pie, alongside on-trend raw dishes like "delicious" yellowfin tuna sashimi with avocado or salmon ceviche with tiger's milk, as well as ultra-trad confit duck or grouse with bread sauce. The kitchen’s special talent lies in the fact that it manages to cook such a varied range of dishes equally well. "The Ivy will always have a place in my heart", declares one fan, while another reckons it’s “a delight all round”.
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69 Atlantic Road, London, SW9 8PU
Following a 2017 refurb, Brixton cocktail-slinger and dim-sum purveyor Courtesan has upped its game. A new distressed frontage and an exotic oriental ground-floor liquor lounge hint at steamy 1920s Hong Kong, while the film-noir basement bar (reached via a red neon-lit staircase) is the kind of trippy Beijing-style bordello that would excite David Lynch (he of Twin Peaks fame). Polished burlesque, quirky cabaret, jazz jams, all-girl DJ sets and sundry esoteric entertainments figure on an appealing bill – although the real stars are racy rinses and sexy stirs such as Raspberry Hanky-Panky or Treacherous Heart (plum wine, Cognac and red bean with a chilli hit). Made without MSG or preservatives, the long list of dim sum is a delight: order creamy salmon, pumpkin and courgette dumplings, teriyaki tofu, ‘magical mushroom bags’ or monk’s vegetables from a line-up that’s also big on bao buns (try the ‘naughty sausage’ version). Noodle and rice dishes appear alongside specials such as fiery deep-fried frog’s legs or peppered cashew-coated minced crab and prawn claws. Green, jasmine and gunpowder are top of the teas.
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49-50 St John's Square, London, EC1V 4JJ
The ‘B’ word (that’s B for ‘boutique’) looms large at the Zetter Townhouse hotel, not least in the Zetter Townhouse Cocktail Lounge with richly decadent colour schemes, assorted sofas, armchairs and “slightly sinister” artworks conjuring up the salon of some Victorian adventurer. The brainchild of cocktail whizz Tony Conigliaro and chef Ben Boeynaems, the space is suitably evocative and indulgent – just right for what follows. How about The Clipper (whisky, samphire syrup and a dash of absinthe) or Priory Sour (whiskey, this time, with beurre noisette and malted barley)? Alternatively go for a Lime Blossom fizz if you prefer something a little more effervescent (all the cordials and infusions are made in-house). The menu is short and to the point – assorted sharing boards, mugs of soup, nibbles and small plates such as potted smoked mackerel with pickled cucumber.
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1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London, W1U 7PA
The fervour that surrounded André Balazs’ Marylebone hotspot has died down and you no longer need to be famous to secure a table, but Chiltern Firehouse still delivers in spades. Readers praise the outdoor-themed interiors as well as the high-decibel “party vibe”, and we’ve also been impressed by the all-inclusive attitude of the staff, who happily laugh and chat with diners. Meanwhile, in the open kitchen, chef Nuno Mendes and his team send out plenty of likeable big-time successes. Snacks such as bacon cornbread and the famous coral-dusted crab doughnut kick things off nicely, but there are other highlights too: char-grilled Ibérico pork comes with the unexpected additions of grilled peaches and red pepper kimchi, while a side of mac ‘n’ cheese is given a fiery kick with jalapeño peppers. Early risers pack in for breakfast (potted eggs with caramelised onions and curried potatoes), freelancers take advantage of the indulgent lunchtime offers (crab and lobster omelette, say), and we’d also recommend Chiltern Firehouse for a pre/post-meal trip to the botanically themed bar for cheekily named cocktails. Be warned – the bill (with impressive wines included) may have you reaching for the fire alarm.
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43-51 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7PQ
Crammed with Fitzrovia’s media movers and shakers from morn till night, Riding House Café is still a trendy favourite hereabouts. Red-leather seating, parquet floors and frilly lamps are redolent of a gussied-up New York diner, though stuffed squirrels and panelled walls add some English eccentricity to the bustling room’s roaring atmosphere. Service is smart and speedy, but the cooking can be up and down: our buffalo wings were parsimonious, and sea trout (overcooked) was lost among fat slabs of tomato drenched in potent pistou, but – on the plus side – crisp salt beef croquettes, roast guinea fowl on ratatouille and a decadent hot chocolate fudge sundae hit the spot. Classy brunches spanning buttermilk pancakes, chorizo hash and lobster Benedict pull the crowds, while a pristinely tiled bar awash with laptops seems more about work than pleasure. Perhaps lone diners aspire to the compact wine list’s ‘reserve’ section.
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8-10 Pollen St, Mayfair, London, W1S 1NQ
Secreted beside a discreet Mayfair alleyway since 2011, Jason Atherton’s imperious Michelin-starred flagship, Pollen Street Social, remains “bang on the money” – a “masterpiece of fine dining” and a worthy winner of the SquareMeal Restaurant of the Year 2017. Step through the glass door and the good vibrations hit you straight away, while the clean-lined metropolitan dining room shows its cosmopolitan class with dramatic lampshades and eye-catching arty exhibits. Atherton may oversee a global empire these days, but he still puts in the shifts at PSS, and is often to be seen at the pass – a world-class hands-on restaurateur in his rightful place. Culinary influences and cross-fertilisation abound, but everything is underpinned by indigenous ingredients, from a witty Cockney riff involving smoked eel, buttermilk, beetroot reduction and jellied eel to South Downs fallow deer with pear, cocoa and chocolate vinegar or “staggeringly good” Lakeland lamb with beetroot, blackcurrant, savoy cabbage and a mini hotpot on the side – scintillating, exuberant food of the highest order, with maximum flavour delivering maximum satisfaction. To start, the ‘fruits of the British sea’ is a delirious array of maritime delights presented on a special stand – we love the oyster ice cream dressed with an oyster leaf, the lobster cocktail, and the Orkney scallop with pickled radish and jalapeño; to finish, the dessert bar promises close encounters with the likes of Brogdale pear sorbet, goats’ cheese ice cream, honey and bee pollen. Service plays it ‘social’ without ever losing its professional cool, and there are treasures galore on the ever-expanding wine list curated by the group’s whizz-bang sommelier Laure Patry. “Few places are such a treat” concludes one admirer of Pollen Street Social– amen to that.
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11 Berwick Street, London, W1F 0PL
Chef Florence Knight was the breakout star of Russell Norman’s Polpo group, but she has now moved on from Polpetto to make way for a new head chef. Knight was at the helm as Polpetto relocated from a room above the French House pub to this standalone premises, and introduced a short menu which included the likes of cavolo nero and croutons, or scallops with cauliflower purée and lardo. Quirkier ideas included pickled parsley root and wet polenta but now, the menu is returning to its roots with Venetian-influenced small plates – the Polpo trademark. Anchovy and chickpea crostinis sit alongside spicy meatball pizzettas, rabbit pappardelle and zucchini fries on the menu, while the narrow, gently lit dining room is full of charm.
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20 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PD
Built in 1977, Sea Containers House was a landmark long before Mondrian, but the US-based boutique hotel chain has done a good job of enhancing the building’s grandeur with a cruise-ship sized dining room that’s wittily decorated with, among other things, a yellow submarine suspended above the bar. Since opening in 2014, the menu’s all-encompassing range has been reined in a little, and it’s now focused on doing fewer things well. Small plates might promise crab on toast with avocado and pickled jalapeños, while salads look particularly enticing – shaved mushrooms with pine nuts, cheese and brown butter vinaigrette, for example. We also like the idea of large ‘family’ plates to share, such as double-cut heritage pork chop or leg of lamb roasted in the clay oven (enough for three people). Desserts tend to be witty takes on the classics, from profiteroles to rhubarb tart with Champagne jelly. “Amazing service” earns bonus points.
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127 Ledbury Road, London, W11 2AQ
“Incredibly inventive”; “consistently wonderful”; “simply outstanding on every level”: readers confirm that The Ledbury is still a paragon of fine dining in the capital. It may radiate old-school affluence, but Brett Graham’s über-suave destination comes across as an inclusive eatery for locals, tourists and perambulating foodies alike – a neighbourhood destination kitted out with arty chandeliers, leather chairs and mirrored walls. Diners descend on the place in search of “top-class contemporary food” from a chef who cooks with vigour, authority and audacious brio. Regulars suggest that tasting menus are the way to go: “every course is a surprise”, whether you begin with a Chantilly of oyster, sea bream tartare and frozen English wasabi or the “stand-out” flame-grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, Celtic mustard and shiso. There is stupendous meat and game too, perhaps Herdwick lamb with salt-baked kohlrabi, Padrón pepper and garlic or a sanguine-toned dish of Berkshire roe deer accompanied by smoked bone marrow, cherries, red leaves and vegetables. As thoughts turn to sweetness, the kitchen obliges with masterstrokes such as blackcurrant-leaf ice cream paired with buffalo-milk meringues and mead. Impeccable staff “genuinely enjoy their job”, and it’s worth engaging with one of the knowledgeable sommeliers if you want to get the best from the endlessly fascinating list. What more could you want from a two-Michelin-starred sophisticate?
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Somerset House, Lancaster Place, London, WC2R 1LA
A charming addition to historic Somerset House, Spring showcases the considerable culinary talents of Skye Gyngell, who rose to foodie fame with a Michelin star at Petersham Nurseries Café. Her cooking puts impeccably sourced native ingredients centre stage in a seasonal menu that never fails to delight, and readers are full of praise for her “fabulous” but disarmingly simple dishes – perhaps delicate queen scallops coated in velvety lemon butter, grilled lamb with farro, cavolo nero and braised radicchio or perfectly moist guinea fowl accompanied by hearty seasonal greens and an indulgent corn and truffle sauce. Italian influences are evident alongside wider Mediterranean touches – think ricotta dumplings with spaghetti squash and spigarello or a zesty sorbet made with mandarins grown on Mount Etna. Spring’s elegant setting elevates dinner to a special occasion, with the Grade II-listed space transformed into an airy oasis of calm, where staff in pale uniforms deliver “knowledgeable, cosy and personal service”. Other plus points include the carefully assembled wine list, bespoke seasonal drinks and a little leafy atrium. “A real cut above the norm”, declares one fan.
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24th Floor, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London, EC2N 1HQ
It may share the signature low-key glamour of Jason Atherton’s other Social restaurants, but the “most incredible views” from Tower 42 elevate City Social to statement status. With the fitting air of a 1920s boardroom, this dining room is custom-built for “business entertaining” – although it has a surprising intimacy given the scale of the setting. Minor grumbles, including music that’s “too loud” in the bar, are dwarfed by readers’ enthusiasm for executive chef Paul Walsh’s oh-so-pretty plates of Michelin-starred food – from cured Scottish salmon with watermelon, saké, cucumber carpaccio, soy and wasabi to tarte Tatin with caramel sauce for sharing. In between, he brings considerable experience to bear on interest-piquing main courses such as saddle of Lincolnshire rabbit with Parma ham, trompette mushrooms, spelt, lovage emulsion and black garlic, line-caught halibut with fondant potato, turnips, crispy prawns and tenderstem broccoli or heritage potato and caramelised onion terrine with Jerusalem artichoke and walnuts. Cocktails are classy, and the wine list is designed to accommodate high rollers – without putting everybody else off.
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20 New Change Passage, London, EC4M 9AG
Now that those early design flaws have been ironed out, Jamie Oliver's cathedral to fire and food can strut its stuff as a perfectly practical – if noisy – canteen with central banquettes offering glorious views of St Paul's: everybody wants one, but there's no harm in asking the energetic, enthusiastic staff. The kitchen is a geek's toolbox of Texas pit smokers, tandoors, fire pits, robata grills and wood-fired ovens, and its smoky aromas ensure that Barbecoa smells as appetising as any eatery in the City. The whiff of testosterone is unmistakable too, from the Desperate Dan ribs, T-bones and beef chops to the wine list's expense-account machismo, while sensitive souls can graze on beer-can chicken or wood-roast halibut. Off nights and disappointments are not unknown, but the scales still tip in Barbecoa's favour – especially as there's a "real buzz about the place".
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17 Bruton Street, London, W1J 6QB
Putting on the style is second nature to this scintillating, seductive and downright intoxicating branch of the global Hakkasan chain – whether you’re flashing it in the pulsating nightclubby bar or playing it cool in the sleek ground-floor dining room. Either way, devotees of the house style are in heaven as they drool over “incredible east-meets-west platefuls” of steamed langoustines wrapped in glass vermicelli with chilli and garlic sauce, spicy lamb salad with peanut dressing (one of our favourites) or stir-fried Norfolk quail with winter chestnuts, basil and lemongrass – a dish that’s unique to Hakkasan Mayfair. “Divine dim sum” such as steamed har gau crowned with gold leaf, homemade pumpkin tofu or smoked beef ribs with jasmine tea crank up the thrill factor even further (especially at lunchtime), and the whole Michelin-starred shebang is fuelled by premium sakés, brilliantly chosen matching wines and ritzy cocktails (“unusual, but in a good way”). As you’d expect, staff are immaculately groomed – although they’re not here just for show (even if their attention sometimes wanders). Eating at Hakkasan Mayfair may be a wallet-emptying experience, but “you’ll feel like a billionaire for a few hours”.
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251 Pentonville Road, N1 9NG
Driven along by two energetic young owners, no-frills, independently minded Honest Burgers has gone down a storm wherever it chooses to pitch its admirable cut-price offer. Fans rate it as one of
the best burger joints in town, with a growing reputation for its custom-built patties – ‘meaty hunks of wonder’ made from 35-day aged beef (from The Ginger Pig), timed to perfection and served on
a glazed brioche bun with triple-cooked, skin-on chips and rosemary salt. Free-range chicken burgers and mixed veggie ‘fritters’ are also available, and the fact that prices are well below a tenner
is a bonus. No bookings, but the queues move quickly and it's worth knowing that Honest Burgers is licensed – if you fancy a bottle of Redchurch Shoreditch Blonde beer, a jar of Hendrick's G&T
with cucumber or a carafe of Plumpton Estate Sussex rosé.
More detail about Honest Burgers King's Cross
21-22 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5NE
Aimed higher than his eponymous deli/café chain, Yottam Ottolenghi's "gleaming" spin-off hits its target with ease: the cream-coloured ground floor is a serene space artfully decorated with white tiles, polished marble and brass fittings, while downstairs offers large communal tables and an open kitchen. However, readers save most praise for Nopi's "exquisite", "healthy" and supremely tasty food: raw cauliflower is paired with sprouts, nectarines and Gorgonzola, sea trout gets a global makeover with koji rice, watercress pesto and labneh, while beef short-rib keeps more familiar company with smoked beer glaze and horseradish. Whether you're sharing dishes or going it alone with one of the more expensive mains, it's all about creativity and depth of flavour. Signature cocktails also pick up on the kitchen's eclectic ingredients. Some bemoan high prices and petite portions, but most reckon that Nopi is "worth every penny".
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The Beaumont, 8 Balderton Street, London, W1K 6TF
Elegance and a warm welcome come as standard at this upmarket hotel grill room, which has powerful echoes of New York’s old-timers with its art-deco murals and framed photographic portraits. The buzz here lasts all day from breakfast to midnight – although the Colony’s comfort food comes with a distinctly American twang.
On the carte, chicken pot pie and macaroni cheese vie for attention with buttermilk fried chicken and Cajun-spiced swordfish, while breakfast brings pancakes, French toast and duck egg hashes with a choice of black pudding, smoked haddock, mushroom and spinach or corned beef. For dessert, bananas Foster and a baked Alaska involving pistachios and cherries are prepared tableside. Jimmy’s (aka the American Bar) makes for an appealing, low-lit stopping-off point with a fondness for bourbon and American whiskey.
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Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, SW1X 7LA
Although it was lightly refurbished in early 2017, even regulars would be hard pressed to notice any changes to Bar Boulud’s wood and beige interiors. The design might be restrained, but the combination of super-flattering lighting, friendly staff and chattering diners makes this one of the capital’s buzziest dining rooms.
New York-based French chef Daniel Boulud may be a big name in global gastronomy but he’s very much in casual mode here, offering up the sort of Gallic classics that are many people’s idea of the perfect meal out. Starters of seared prawns and Burgundy snails are festooned with enough garlic to ward off a vampire, while lemon sole with grenobloise butter followed by a sweet slice of gateau basque and crème anglaise prove that this kitchen knows how to finish a dish with a fabulous sauce.
“Although it’s high end, it isn't snobby at all” say readers, so you can also pop in for a luscious croque madame with fries or one of the “mouth-watering” inch-thick BB burgers – not what you might expect from a dining room in the Mandarin Oriental. All in all, the “best fun” you can have in Knightsbridge.
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61 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PW
Russell Norman’s ode to Manhattan cool revels in its scruffy nonchalance, with a non-descript facade that’s easy to miss. Beyond, laid-back staff and equally laid-back customers (tattoos and facial hair are de rigueur) congregate on either side of a long bar. The snack-fuelled US/Italian menu is designed to soak up some heavy drinks, including a regularly changing cocktail list which makes use of more than 10 bourbon varieties. Alternatively, grab a beer with a shot for a fiver, and get your ballast from buttermilk-fried chicken, crackling aubergine chips with a sprightly fennel yoghurt dip or crab cake and eggs Benedict, squelching out from an English muffin. The tiny room (‘27 stools and a popcorn machine’ as the restaurant puts it) has been stripped back to reveal cracked white tiles and battered walls, in what has fast become the Soho norm. Naturally, you can’t make a reservation, but the peanut butter and jam dessert is worth the wait.
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24th Floor, Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London, EC2N 1HQ
Drinks at City Social are not about to be upstaged by its grand views of The Gherkin and London lights twinkling far below. All bullish swagger, Jason Atherton's City gig reflects the Square Mile's high-water mark before that referendum put the cat among the pin-striped pigeons. However, Brexiteers and Bremainers can call a temporary truce over cocktails that are far more sophisticated than their excruciating puns might suggest: Gold Plum-Sachs, A Damson in a Stress, Oh My Gourd (a pumpkin-infused Tapatio blanco, lychee, lime and agave concoction). OMG, indeed! Meanwhile, The Duck-Anter, a strawberry sling for four to share, incorporates Aylesbury Duck vodka (please note that no birds are harmed in the production of this Canadian spirit). Classy small and large plates from the Michelin-starred kitchen are mercifully free of such puns – think smoked pork empanadas, avocado tempura with aubergine purée, game cottage pie, steaks or battered fish with duck-fat chips (Fridays only).
More detail about Social 24 at City Social
13a Gerrard Street, London, W1D 5PS
Like its Shoreditch sibling, Joyeux Bordel, ECC is from the same stable as à la mode Parisian thoroughbreds such as Prescription in St. Germain-des-Prés. Beyond the scruffy door, guarded by a friendly (or otherwise) greeter, you’ll discover a moody boho pile packed with Pinteresting people and arranged over the upper floors of a Chinatown dwelling: opinions of the full EEC experience are invariably divided, although few would dispute that it delivers consistently good drinks knocked out by keen-to-please/snottily superior staff (make up your own mind). Expect to shell out at least £70 for a quartet of contemporary spins on classic recipes: the line-up varies, but those we have loved include the Martini Suissesse (a blend of absinthe, vermouth, mint and orgéat that tastes like pimped-up Pernod) and Old Cuban (a rum, ginger and shampoo coupe). Steer clear of cocktails made with vintage spirits – unless you're feeling really flush and really flash.
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129 City Road, London, EC1V 1JB
Book in advance for Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson's highly rated and regularly rammed jazz-age hootenanny, which is home to nightly blues, swing and ragtime jams. Golden eras of the cocktail are revisited in a considered list of well-built drinks whose recipes often involve abstruse ingredients: named after 1930s jelly-legs jiggler, Josephine Baker, Nightjar's signature crusta adds Afro mbongo spice, tonka bean liqueur and passion fruit curd to its Ysabel Regina brandy base. And you’d be forgiven for wanting to purloin its chic tiki-tastic drinking vessels: porcelain wishing wells, conch shells, glass bongs, Pygmy hunting horns and ancient copper bells. Nightjar's insistence on over-elaborate presentation can sometimes leave you struggling not to tip the sip down your front.
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