There is more to St James’s many grand restaurants than top-notch food – they rustle up a mean cocktail too
Article by Rupert Watkins
For many St James’s still brings to mind Jermyn Street, the Ritz, Pall Mall and, for those following London’s ever burgeoning food scene, grand and elegant restaurants. However, for others the august and refined area would not be a natural point for a cocktail of two (away from its marvellous hotel bars). This would be a shame as the eager and adventurous drinker will find much to titillate the taste buds around SW1.
The thing to bear in mind is that many of the newer and very high quality restaurants now in the area take their bars and cocktail making very seriously – they are just as happy for you to pop in for a snifter and a quick bar snack as to indulge in their full tasting menu. As such, one can saunter round the area sampling a couple of drinks with worrying about breaking the bank.
Take Hawksmoor on Air Street. Whilst a top hole steak restaurant, its cocktail list is not to be sniffed at. Sensibly broken down into Anti- Fogmatics, Pre-Prandials, Post-Prandials, Bridging Drinks, Cards and Cigars and Party Drinks, the careful drinker is able to plan his or her day and take on board the appropriate libation. Their house drink is the Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew, a refreshing and very easy drinking blend of gin, sugar, ginger syrup and topped up with London Pride – a pleasant way to forget the day in front of Excel. The place itself, completely renovated in 2012, is smart with a minimalist art deco feel. With a bulging cocktail list with the vast bulk of drinks sitting just under a tenner this is a rather pleasant St James’s bolthole.
Wandering down Piccadilly then turning to walk down St James’s itself brings you to Chutney Mary. Known as one of the very best Indian restaurants in London, its colourful and stylish Pukka bar should be a huge draw to the cocktail fanatic. Its Shimla Punch is light and very refreshing – rather akin to Pimms – while at the other end of the spectrum the Jaipur is much sweeter with strawberry liquer, bourbon and egg white topped with grated nutmeg and cardamom. One huge draw for Chutney Mary is that it cannot serve drinks on their own – you must order at least one bar snack in order to be served. This licensing rule encourages elegant, convivial and unrushed drinking – a huge plus if you simply want to bask in the comfortable surroundings and unwind. The bar also lists Indian wines and whiskeys as well as stocking rarer spirits such as Bombay Sapphire East. The main bar table – made out of an 18 foot single piece of South East Asian timber has no reservations so despite the restaurant’s popularity try your luck for some fine drinking at the bottom of St James’s.
Moving to Lower Regent Street brings you to Estiatorio Milos. This smart, crisp and bright Greek restaurant was opened in its Grade II listed home in August 2015. With a stunning array of fresh fish and vegetables – flown in from Greece each day – and a bustling bar this a certainly a place to while away a cocktail and indulge in a spot of people watching. The cocktails list is comprehensive with a definite Greek twist, the Milos Royale – with vodka, ouzo egg white and blue curacao – is slightly sweet with the ouzo giving it a distinctive kick. Those who lust after baklava – those marvellous nut and honey deserts of the Eastern Mediterranean – will adore Milos’ Balckava Martini. With home-made baklava syrup, ground cinnamon and nutmeg and a spot of lemon juice these are certainly sweet but lovely and nutty. Also not to be missed is Milos yoghurt – head upstairs to see it being freshly made. Served simply with Greek honey and nuts this is utterly delicious and transports you away to the sun dappled shores of the Aegean.
The thirsty and curious amongst you can then strike out to Haymarket and the Brumus Bar at the Haymarket Hotel. With low comfortable banquets and colourful art this is certainly popular and when you are confronted with their cocktails you can see why. Their list includes fun and funky drinks such as their “Bathtub Gin” appropriately served in a miniature bathtub. Other concoctions include the “Mexican Festival” with tequila and coffee ice cubes. It actually does work – the coffee and tequila round each other’s edges off – one to perhaps finish the night with.
Given the range of high grade and fun restaurants and bars in St James’s now drawing in the crowds, throw preconceived ideas away and do not rule this illustrious part of London out – you will regret it.
Hawksmore, 5 Air Street, London W1J 0AD / 0207 4063980 / http://thehawksmoor.com/locations/airstreet/
Chutney Mary, 73 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1PH / 0207 6296688 / www.chutneymary.com/
Milos, 1 Regent Street, London SW1Y 4NR / 0207 8392080 / http://milos.ca/restaurants/london
Brumus Bar, Haymarket Hotel, 1 Suffolk Place, London SW1Y 4HX / 0207 4704007 / www.firmdalehotels.com/a/restaurants-bars/london/brumus/