The BIT (Beverage Industry Trends): London, UK
Written by Danny Ronen
Photos by Jenn Farrington
The name London conjures up images of an old established culture, foggy nights, fried fish and chips, a stiff upper lip and, of course, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. But London is also the home of one of the (if not the) most vibrant and innovative bar scenes on the planet. Many who have done their time in this industry have passed through this center of the drinks universe, and now The BIT checks out four of London’s top liquid venues.
The BIT’s first stop on a dreary London day is actually of a cheery nature: We meet Paul Mant, creator of the bar program at Quo Vadis, only one day from its soft opening for friends and family. Although he’s busy, he is relatively calm. Owners Sam and Eddie Hart bought the Soho establishment, immediately shut it down and started to create the much talked-about restaurant and private member club that it will be by the time you read this. Currently, it is in the last throes of construction, so although we’re missing some of the aesthetics during our visit, the beverage innovation cannot hide from us.
What stands out right away is their water and ice situation. Quo Vadis will house an amazing water filtration system that will allow them not only to bottle all of their water on-site, but also to create all of their own ice using a double-freezing method—not necessarily the most efficient use of their time, as all double-frozen ice will have to be made four days before its intended use. They also plan on having a large, rotating volume of frozen glasses so as to minimize ice use in general. If you want some good cocktail geek conversation, find a member who will take you along for the afternoon; if you’re lucky, they’ll even let you use the honor bar.
Just a short trip east to the Shoreditch neighborhood, we find another member bar called The East Room, another Match Group creation (along with Harlem, Milk & Honey, etc.). Like many other private bars popping up, The East Room was just too good to keep under wraps, and although the exterior is unmarked, The BIT doubts that any of the local passers-by aren’t aware of its existence. Once we are led in by Paul Hammond, the soft-spoken creator of the beverage program, we see The East Room’s simple elegance. A hallway housing a selection of Enomatic by-the-glass wine dispensers leads into a dining room where mid-day diners relax and discuss Gordon Ramsay, the Queen and how cheap real estate is in the U.S.
Paul sits us down at a table near the bar, where a collection of esoteric bourbons watch over us like booze gargoyles. Paul shows us the bar’s “wine grid,” a sheet that allows customers to select a wine based on region, varietal and price-point, rather than worry about choosing from the enormous number of by-the-glass options.
“Although many of our customers know enough about wine, they still might need some assistance,” Paul says, noting that this method allows them to make that choice without being bogged down by the abundant availability. Jonathan Downey, the owner, likes that The East Room members enjoy the Enomatic; not only does it allow them to avoid having their selection chosen for them by a sommelier, but it jives well with his “Drinking less and drinking better” concept.
Also in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood, we find ourselves in an oasis of sustainable bar practices at Saf. Saf, which means “pure” in Turkish, is a bar and restaurant proud of their connection to LifeCo, their parent company (“Your Partner for Healthy Living, Detox, Well-Being and Raw Food”). The BIT can attest to the fact that the cocktails here are so incredible as to require their own detox afterwards, but this doesn’t seem to keep the people at Saf from doing their thing, including growing herbs in an on-premise garden, which patrons can explore.
Bar Manager Joe McCanta boasts to The BIT that Saf offers the largest selection of organic spirits in Europe. In addition, most of the vodkas and gins he uses are small-batch products whose raw materials are not grown en masse; since they don’t require herbicides, they only need one or two distillations. If they can’t find what they need in organic or Fair Trade, they will go to local small producers. If that’s what it takes to create a great cocktail like The Shoeshine (constructed of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Vya sweet vermouth, The Bitter Truth’s orange flower water and orange bitters), then consider us sold on Saf’s concept.
The BIT’s final stop hits a little closer to home: Mexican food and tequila. Famous Covent Garden locale La Perla is known not only for its Margaritas, chips and salsa (forgot we were in the U.K. for a moment, they were so good!), but also for its tequila education program. Having received awards from Mexico’s Consejo Regulador del Tequila at both La Perla sites as well as at sister restaurant Café Pacifico (with locations in London, Sydney and Paris), these tequila gurus take a great sense of pride in what they do.
“Over the past decade, I’ve seen a big increase in the availability of 100% high-quality, blue agave tequilas,” Blake states, a supply line that he admits helps them with their tastings, as well as with “Tequila Season,” a late-summer tequila awareness event they hold every year.
“For people who have had a ‘bad tequila experience’ but have never suffered the same fate from whisky,” Blake continues, “we start them off with some of our favorite añejo, and it just changes their outlook.”
La Perla’s goal is really to make the place an extension of people’s living rooms, with casual service and careful attention to each customer. It’s easy to see that La Perla lives by the motto “Honest food and honest service.” The honesty comes easy; after all, tequila is nature’s truth serum.
Don't forget to visit the Jenn Farrington Studios image library for all The BIT: London locations. You can also learn more about those locations by visiting their websites:
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