There are few things better than an unexpected Friday afternoon off, and this particular Friday afternoon I was particularly excited to be going out out for once and hitting the town for a cocktail crawl; kicking off with solo drinks at Dandelyan.
Located on the ground floor of the Sea Containers hotel on the Southbank, this is possibly my favourite stretch of my favourite city. Even the lowering clouds merged perfectly with the steely waters of the Thames and the marvellous geometry of the buildings; as viewed here from Blackfriars Bridge.
Launched by London’s very own bartender extraordinaire Ryan Chetiyawardana, AKA Mr Lyan, it has recently been awarded the accolade of the best cocktail bar in the whole wide world (clearly they have never had a jug of Woo Woos at Yates’ Wine Lodge).
I was particularly keen to come, even if it was only a flying solo visit, as it was the penultimate day it would operate in this incarnation, before being closed for good, remodelled and reopened as Lyaness. As it was their final week, several old faces had dropped in and I could over hear the staff giving them the low down on the new iteration from my perch at the bar, from what I could pick up, it's
From their final cocktail menu, The Modern Life of Plants, I kicked off with a Re-Supply Sour, which include Koji liquor, Compass Box whisky, raspberry and nutrient-enriched cardboard. I had to Google koji; apparently it's a fungus, Aspergillus oryzae, that's used to make fermented things such as sake, miso and soy sauce.
While I'm still not much clearer of what was actually in it, I can tell you that it was delicious. I love the clean, bright flavours of a sour and this made the perfect pre-prandial; fresh and zingy and, as you can see, pretty as a picture.
Obviously I have decided the 'no sugar rule' doesn't extend to alcohol, and I took full advantage of that to order the Koji Hardshake, a stalwart that has stayed on the ever-changing menu since 2014. Another drink featuring koji - yes, the clue is in the name - along with blended scotch, lemon juice, double cream and liquorice bitters. The piece de resistance is a blow-torched marshmallow, spritzed with a truffle spray, that is balanced on the rim.
Perfectly balanced between creamy, spicy and boozy, this was rich and funky but without being cloying. I'm not sure if this will make a comeback in the new gaff, but, if it does, jump on it. Not literally; the gooey marshmallow will get everywhere.
After wedging, literally, myself into a tube carriage at St Paul's - God bless London during Friday night rush hour - I made it to Bethnal Green. Despite my trousers clearly being far too long for East London, I snuck in anyway and hit Mother Kelly's Paradise Row for a swift half while awaiting the Ewing's arrival.
Always a great place for a beer, or several, this visit coincided with the launch of the To Øl Mr. series, their tribute to Quentin Tarantino's cult 90s classic Reservoir Dogs. I tried a half of the Mr Orange; a double dry hopped IPA with khaki fruit (me neither), orange peel and re-fermented with To Øl instant crush brett (still no idea) at 5 per cent. It was good, but maybe not the ten-odd quid - I managed to cut the prices off when I took the photo, but it certainly wasn't cheap - it cost.
The Ewing started her night on the booze with the 9 per cent Mr Brown; an 'imperial salty caramel cookie dough double coffee fudge chocolate milk hazelnut butter vanilla cocoa crumble brown ale'. Which was an unorthodox aperitif, but tasted quite as marvellous as it sounds.
Sensing it was probably wise to stop for ballast at some point (and you won't like the Ewing when she's hangry), we moved next door, literally, for dinner at Sager and Wilde. A wine bar-cum-restaurant they are also known for their incredible lunch and early evening menu, featuring a plate of pasta and a glass of wine or a negroni for a tenner.
We both chose the cocktail option. Alongside our drinks we enjoyed a generous bowl of excellent nocellara olives, the Ewing's absolute fave, and also some excellent lamb and caper arancini. Crisp-crumbed balls of gooey risotto studded with shredded meat and the poky pickled buds. A labour of love consumed in a couple of delicious mouthfuls.
The Ewing chose the Reginette, or little queens, made with beetroot in the pasta dough, turning it a glorious pink colour. It was served simply with smoked ricotta and black garlic and topped with a drift of crispy breadcrumbs. While a touch of the stodgy side (which I am highly down with), I enjoyed the fiery note from a liberal dose of chilli.
My Strozapretti, gloriously translating as priest stranglers, was bathed in a rich pork ragu that had chunks of tender meat and tomatoes in a deep, buttery sauce that had been properly covered in a drift of fresh parmesan. The whole lot, including tip, was still cheap enough to be able to pay by contactless. Amazing value, great staff and excellent food.
Not quite at stumbling stage we made it down the Bethnal Green Road to the final call on our cocktail crawl. Another London venue that features in the World's 50 bars, Coupette was awarded the best new opening in 2017, and debuted at an impressive 18th on the full list last year.
With a menu that focuses on calvados as well as cocktails the Ewing started with the 'apples'. Made simply from french apple brandy and fresh pressed apple juice, the varieties used change monthly giving it a subtly ever-changing flavour profile through the seasons. When I was chatting to the bar tender at Dandelyan earlier that the afternoon, this was the drink he recommended saying it was his favourite cocktail to drink anywhere at the moment. Quite a bold claim, and one that was backed up with it's delicious simplicity.
The cocktail they are best known for is the champagne colada, which, as it sounds blends a pina colada with a healthy glug of Moet et Chandon. Two of my very favourite things: as the Barefoot Contessa might say, 'how bad can that be?'
The answer is not bad at all, with the fizz lifting the richness of the coconut milk. Probably my drink of the day, although getting the coconut flakes through the straw did take a monumental amount of effort as I got towards the end. Who said this drinking lark was easy.
As a nightcap I took the bartenders recommendation of a tropical old fashioned, made from a Woodford Reserve and tropical cordial of pineapple, lime and mango and tropical bitters. Simple, strong and surprisingly refreshing for a digestif.
The Ewing tried the Board Room with cognac, Dubonnet cherry, coffee and smoke. This was a touch too much bonfire for me, but she still loves the odd menthol Vogue, so it slipped down pretty easily.
While we were gearing up for that to be the last round, the level of inebriation the Ewing had reached by that point lead to the realisation that she was still a couple of drinks behind me. And so she promptly ordered a champagne colada for herself.
Not wanting to be left out (although this didn't help with any imbalance in imbibing), I ordered the champagne martini, which, surprise surprise, saw a classic martini with Grey Goose Noilly Prat being topped up with Moet and champagne liqueur and garnished with a frozen grape. This was another excellent combination, the effervescence smoothing out the rough edges of the vodka perfectly.
Definitely at stumbling stage, our final stop on the trail was a visit to the estimable Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. While I'm a big fan of their smoked salmon and cream cheese offering (and their cheesecake, if I could actually eat it at the moment), it's hard to see past the perfect salt beef.
Huge slabs of cured brisket, cut into hunks and stuffed into the perfectly squidgy/chewy bagels, along with pickles and a good slathering of proper english mustard. If you don't end up here after a night on the tiles, have you even been out drinking in East London? Sober me also thanked drunk me for bringing an extra cream cheese bagel back to the hotel for the morning after. Drunk me can still pull it out the bag when it's needed.