London cocktail bars shaking things up

Two top-class cocktail bars are reinventing the quick drink for time-pressed aperitivo lovers

Image: Maïté Franchi/Folio Art

The cocktail wasn’t originally designed to be lingered over –it was meant to be a short, sharp nip, consumed at speed. “Drink it quickly, while it’s still laughing at you,” advised The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930; and it’s true – a cocktail is often at its most tantalising when enjoyed on the fly.

One bar that’s made a virtue of this is Swift, the new Soho outpost from the creators of the multi-award-winning City bars Nightjar and Oriole. Kitted out in an elegant mix of marble, mirrors and powder blue, this tiny street-level establishment marries the glamour of an art deco cocktail joint with the energy of an espresso bar. Save for a handful of willowy bar stools, it’s standing room only here – just right for dipping in and out on the way to dinner. And the natty little cocktail list is replete with sharpeners ranging from a sherbetty mimosa made with orange, raspberry brandy and champagne and an iced coupe of lemongrass gin, mint and absinthe, to a fortifying Irish coffee – all presented with the kind of exquisite attention to detail that’s garnered their other bars such acclaim. A selection of champagnes by the glass and titbits, including oysters and crostini with steak tartare, as well as a plush speakeasy downstairs for whisky and late-night assignations, make this my new favourite Soho pit stop.

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Another fine destination for time-pressed aperitivo lovers would be Clove Club’s new Clerkenwell venture, Luca. More informal than its Michelin-starred sibling, this airy Italian restaurant boasts a buzzy little bar out the front with train-carriagey wooden booths and a marble counter perfect for enjoying a bitter-sweet spritz with a plate of antipasti. The theme here is “British seasonal ingredients through an Italian lens”, and the cocktail list is duly shot through with homegrown ingredients – a Negroni made with London’s Sacred Gin, a prosecco cocktail fortified with a Pimm’s-like gin cup, and a crisp variation on an Aperol Spritz lengthened with hoppy pale ale. There are six types of homemade pasta to be had in the dining room, but why bother when the bar snacks are as good as these? I’m still hankering after its answer to the Scotch egg: a green olive encased in a crisp sphere of criminally delicious deep-fried rabbit.

Just be warned: once you’ve sunk one of their Luca Martinis – a twist on a Dirty Martini made with Porter’s Dry Gin, dry vermouth and preserved green peaches – you may find yourself in the mood to cancel all appointments and turn that flying visit into a late lunch that lasts all afternoon. 

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