The Connaught Hotel has an eponymous bar tucked in back of the lobby which is a hidden gem. Sure, you might get sucked into the lush Coburg Bar which fronts the building but if you walk straight in through the revolving doors, past the lobby desk and make a left when you hit a dead end, you’ll be walking into a locals only kind of place, where you have to be in the know to find this watering hole. Silver walls and alligator coloured Art Deco inspired chairs and tables and marbled floors give the Connaught bar a cool vibe while still retaining a veneer of Jazz Era glamour. I can just imagine strolling in and ordering a perfect Manhattan. Which is what I did one afternoon when I was invited for drinks at the Connaught.
Oh,the perfect Manhattan. Although I’m The Winesleuth, I do like bourbon and this American expat is always looking for the perfect Manhattan in London. I don’t know why but it is difficult to get a properly made one in London, although I have noticed that I am having to send them back fewer and fewer times nowadays. The Connaught passed the Manhattan test with flying colours. Made with Maker’s Mark, as requested, and even though there were no maraschino cherries, (they did have their own specially infused cherries) it was served on the rocks the first time around, or rather, one big rock. Yes, I encountered that big ball of ice again. This time it was explained to me that the round ball of ice actually melts very slowly and thus you get a cold drink without it being watered down, ah-ha! I also tried another American classic, the Mint Julep. Heaps of shaved ice, fresh mint and a mini strainer in the drink to sieve the bourbon as I sipped. Very well done but a touch too sweet after the Manhattan. I should have started with the Mint Julep and then gone on to a Manhattan. Live and learn, live and learn….
But back to the bar. The very accommodating and winner of the International Bartender of the Year 2010, Agostino Perrone was making cocktails for us at the martini trolley. The bar has a portable black trolley where Agostino can mix up a mean gin martini.
They also have homemade bitters and Agostino has a selection of bitters for me to add to the martini I’d ordered once I’d finished my Manhattan. Ginger, lavender, licorice and cardamon were among the bitters offered to me on a small silver platter. They have a total of 8 to choose from and Agostino told me that they take anywhere from 15 to 40 days or longer to make. They make them all in house and are tested daily so they know when they are ready. All for me, the guest, so that I can have my own personal bitter-infused martini. I went for cardamon infused and it really did enhance my gin martini. It stands to reason, as Agostino noted, because cardamon is one of the aromatics used in the making of gin.
To go along with our cocktails, we were served canapes from the kitchen of 2 Michelin starred chef, Helene Darroze. Foie gras in funnels of pastry with cherry, perfect crab cakes, sea bream tartare with avocado, langoustines with a citrus mousseline, and wagyu beef with small cubes of foie gras sitting atop it were some of the appetizers sent out. Sadly, somebody in the other bar got our last order of appetizers but they were all divinely delicious and really, one musn’t be greedy.
I do like the Connaught Bar and if you find yourself in Mayfair around the cocktail hour, it’s a great place to toast in the evening. You can find the bar at the Connaught Hotel, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL, just walk past the lobby desk and make a left.