Climbing to the Cocktail Uplands
Seeking unusual and delicious drinks? Unleash your inner mountaineer and head to the Hill Station for Himalayan charm and Darjeeling Iced Teas
Review by Martin Stickley
In the summer of 2008 a group of friends and I took a rather midge laden holiday in Ben Nevis – Scotland. On one of the sunnier days the six of us set off to climb Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. Now I’m reasonably fit, but still found it a little hard going, maybe steel toe-capped boots were overkill – if you’ve never been there, ascending the mountain track is essentially like walking up a 16km staircase where all the steps are made of rock and there is no comfy bed waiting at the top. It was a pretty warm day in June and about halfway up I remember being passed by a particularly leathery-looking pensioner who was confidently striding along in shorts and a vest top which was brave considering the summit was over a foot deep in snow. Mind you, one of our party had decided, in his infinite wisdom, to make the ascent wearing (in true hipster fashion) skinny black jeans and pair of winkle pickers. It was also memorable for the fact that we decided to abandon the two slowest members of our party about two thirds of the way up as they kept stopping for a rest every ten metres (I know, such gents, right?). After passing the two of them again on the way down from the summit, they eventually caught up with us, three pints to the better, at pub at the foot of the mountain only to be told that it was time to leave and that they were driving us all back to the caravan. This is about the closest I’ve ever got to true mountaineering and if, like me, you don’t fancy the rigours of scaling Everest, K2 or the north face of the Eiger, you can now just pop down to Hill Station in Tooting Broadway Market for an authentic mountain-climbing themed cocktail experience where thankfully the closest you’ll get to snow is the ice in your Himalaya Margarita.
Just two minutes walk from Tooting Broadway underground and nestled amongst the stalls and bars within the market Hill Station is a cosy little cocktail gem, the interior has been inspired by feats of mountaineering and decorated to look like an authentic Tibetan mountain hut. From the bar (which was made from the front of an Indian lorry) to the reclaimed wood panelling which adorns the walls, you would almost be forgiven for having the feeling you have been transported to the foot of a snowy peak thousands of miles away.
Many of the drinks on offer at Hill Station have been constructed using Himalayan herbs and spices such as hibiscus, tamarind and chilli to give an original twist on classic cocktail recipes. My favourites amongst the short, but well constructed menu include the Tibetan-Tai (which features spiced rum, Pimiento rum, pineapple and orange juice with a dash of sugar syrup), the Yak’s Milk (Yunnan tea, whiskey, lemon juice, tamarind paste and sugar syrup) and the Darjeeling Iced Tea (vodka and triple sec muddled together with chilli, peppercorns, guanabana juice and lime juice topped with lemonade). The Tibetan-Tai is deliciously sweet and refreshing, with the toffee-like rum being cut through nicely by the zest of the pineapple and orange. The Darjeeling Iced Tea might put people off with its fiery kick of chilli and pepper, but trust me; it’s a surprisingly invigorating and tasty drink. Saving (my personal favourite) for last, the Yak’s Milk is a smoky delight, the peaty whiskey flavour being balanced by the spicy sweetness of the tamarind and lemon.
It is a joy to sit inside the cosy little bar, my eyes couldn’t stop roving around the many photos and items which adorn the walls. From newspaper cuttings of Hilary and Tensing’s exploits to climbing equipment such as ancient crampons you get the impression that the owners have made a genuine effort to bring a little corner of Tibet to south west London. If you’re feeling peckish whilst sampling the drinks, you don’t have to resort to freeze-dried boil in the bag meals but you can go and see one of the bar’s neighbours, Hi-ki Japanese Robata grill for some authentic sashimi and robatayaki (I thoroughly recommend the raw Tuna).
Enquiries: Hill Station, Unit 14, Broadway Market SW17 0RJ / 0208 6729410 / www.thehillstationtooting.com/