The night the Titanic went down, the ship’s first-class passengers had enjoyed a 10-course dinner of oysters, poached salmon, asparagus and ice cream. To ensure that appetites did not flag during this lavish last supper, they were served a palate-cleanser midway through the meal of gin, lemon, orange curaçao, green tea and champagne – a drink by the name of Punch Romaine.
This punch recipe, along with more than two dozen others, is part of an exquisite new menu at the Punch Room at London’s Edition Hotel. Illustrated and bound like something from an antique bookseller’s, this work of mixography pays homage to a family of drinks that fuelled 17th-century sailors, the gentlemen’s clubs of Georgian London, and works by Byron, Kipling and Dickens (as well as quite a few Goblet parties).
“Punch in its heyday was a real session drink,” says the Punch Room’s bar manager Davide Segat. “The punch bowl should invite you back, and encourage you to linger.”
And lingering is not hard in this wood‑panelled hideaway, where a fireplace flickers regardless of the weather, illuminating a collection of antique silver punch bowls including one capacious enough to bath a baby in.
Settled into one of the mossy-green velvet banquettes, I start with a Cold Ruby Punch, a vintage recipe of port, green tea, pineapple and arrack, a coconut sap spirit from South and Southeast Asia that was the basis for many punches in the 1600s. Ambergris – another bit of exotica that became fashionable in more elaborate punches, as well as in perfumes – finds its way into an aromatic Wedding Punch made with rye whisky, lemon sherbet and champagne.
Segat’s meticulously researched menu also gives a nod to some of the more eccentric techniques that were favoured by punch-compounders of yore. Oddities include Egg Wine (much nicer than it sounds), and a truly delicious clarified English Milk Punch from around 1750. Served over a hunk of ice, and topped with a tiny purple pansy, this glistening glass of loveliness is like sipping a cream soda in a rain-drenched garden.
Punch has lately seen a big resurgence of interest among bartenders, and the menu reflects this with a selection of 21st-century recipes using mescal, foams and what-not. For the Snow-Flake, Segat drafted in the Edition Hotel’s pastry chef to help him create a deconstructed punch that dissolves magically on the tongue.
All of these drinks – aside from the Snow-Flake – are available by the glass, but those wishing to observe the true spirit of the punch should enjoy them in company, by the bowl. Clear your diary, settle in and see what friendships are forged over the ladle.