There’s nothing like a good tipple to kick-start the weekend. And to be honest, we’re a bit spoilt for choice in London now, especially with the speakeasy fever that seems to have reached a high pitch recently. Two cocktail dens currently on my radar take inspiration from the Prohibition era and quite literally run with it, further afield from Asia to Italy…
Friday Night Chez Chow
It’s all cosy corners and vintage vibes at Chez Chow, the basement bar under the North Audley Cantine (a chic French bistro in Mayfair).
A tiny space with lots of character, the bar is inspired by and named after “Teddy the Chow Chow”, the pet of one of the owners who made this place home. You can see Teddy’s influence everywhere, from the retro photographs framing the rich wood-panelled walls to the quirky lampshade sitting on a nest of tables. Lighting is dim, and creates a speakeasy feel, albeit with an Asian twist – oriental potted plants are scattered between cushy armchairs and there’s even the odd bamboo dresser, greeting you at the entrance.
Asian elements extend to the food and drinks menu, so you can expect bar bites like popcorn shrimp and Sriracha chicken sliders, while cocktails include a Chinatown martini mixed with sake and plum bitters.
Although the selection isn’t extensive, each cocktail is an enticing and heady concoction, with creative flair. Options include Popcorn Sazerac (popcorn-infused bourbon served on the rocks with a dash of absinthe) and my favourite, the Kokachin (pictured below left), a frothy mix of vodka shaken with cherry-puree, cinnamon syrup, lemon juice and an egg-white (the binding factor really), topped with a lychee foam. The gin-based Madame Chow is another winner (pictured below right), daintily infused with orange bitters and served on the rocks.
While an intimate setting, we found that the space caters surprisingly well for larger groups as well. With its offbeat theme, contemporary jazz tunes and formidable choice of drinks, Chez Chow was a fabulously fun cocktail pit-stop before we headed on to dinner.
41 North Audley Street, London W1K 6ZP
Saturday scenes at Cartizze
Another great find over the weekend: an Italian-inspired cocktail bar with an art-deco look, tucked away in the charming cobbled lane of Lancashire Court.
There is an effortless air of luxury at Cartizze, which is elegantly done up with dip-dyed oak panelling, soft lilac and blue hues, marble tops and brass edges. A striking display of crystal glassware is lined against the back of the bar, in homage to the speakeasy traditions of the ’20s, while tunes reminiscent of the roaring decade set the tone.
Bellinis feature prominently on the menu. Prosecco is also used liberally to add a sparkle to other cocktails, which are mostly based on Italian spirits of course. The Italian influence is felt more subtly as well, such as in the use of citrus and orange flavours in the crystal-clear Mayfair Elegante pictured above (light rum, gin, blood orange liqueur, clarified citrus, bitters).
The olive oil gin fizz looked particularly intriguing – we had to try it. The unique combination of gin shaken with lemon, lemon sugar, olive oil and egg-white topped with prosecco, created a surprisingly smooth and refreshing drink, perfect for the spring evening. A chat with our friendly mixologist Drew, revealed that its secret lies in the artful union of olive oil and protein, which combine well together to create a softer texture.
The bar snacks too, are a dainty and delicious Italian affair. We chose well with a two-year old parmesan, enchantingly presented behind a haze of smoke within a glass cloche, and were quite simply in foodie heaven as we dipped delicate morsels into the balsamic vinegar accompanying it.
With its vibrant yet unhurried ambience, we can definitely see ourselves spending more than just the one evening sitting by the open windows at Cartizze in the coming months, looking out on to bustling courtyard, as we sip Venetian classics and let ourselves be carried away to Italy for the summer.
4 Lancashire Court, London W1S 1EY