Many bartenders would regard a job running the gilded Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel as the pinnacle of their career. But for Chris Moore, it was just a stepping stone on the way to realising his dream: to launch a cocktail bar specialising in French drinks. Marc, cider, pastis, armagnac – and all the obscure, regional specialities that languish at the back of drinks cabinets across the land, offering dust-clad memories of distant holidays.
It sounds, if I’m honest, like a terrible idea for a bar. But Coupette is a gem. Shoe-horned into an old pub on raggle-taggle Bethnal Green Road, it’s as close as you can get to a high-class bar crawl round France, without getting on the Eurostar.
Moore’s great passion is Calvados, the apple brandy of Normandy, and you won’t find a better selection in London. But there are so many esoteric delights here from cassis by Château Mouton Rothschild and Haitian rhum agricoles to a champagne-like poiré from L’Arpège’s former head sommelier, Eric Bordelet.
And Moore’s pedigree makes itself felt in the cocktails, which are superlative. A five-star Pina Colada, made with champagne and coconut sorbet shipped from Lézignan-Corbières in southern France, is as light as air, while a fizz made with Blanche de Normandie and peach bitters pops with flavour. The menu also pays tribute to the French classic Kir – I drank a delicious twist on the traditional wine-and-liqueur formula made with Noilly Prat dry vermouth, Chartreuse VEP and fig leaf.
I always think the real test of a bar is how they do the simple drinks – Coupette’s signature cocktail is a thirst-slaking highball of house-pressed, sparkling apple juice (the apple variety changes each month) and Calvados (which changes every month too) served over crystalline ice spheres honed in a Japanese ice machine. “I want this menu to be about simplicity and discovery,” says Moore, who plans to hold tasting events led by some of his favourite producers.
The quality of the drinks at Coupette could rival many of the best bars in the world, yet the feel here is 100 per cent neighbourhood. On sunny days the doors and windows are open wide and the navy leather booths in this narrow, brasserie-style space fill with chattering locals. Up at the bar, which is inlaid with shimmering 10-centime pieces, I find myself surrounded by bartenders who’ve come from all over town to taste, learn and find new things to use in their own drinks.
“I’ve had a few French customers go all misty‑eyed when they see the bar,” says Moore. “The centimes remind them of their childhood.” Even if you’re not French, though, I’d urge you to go – you might even find a creative way to use up that armagnac.