Recently I’ve had a chance to spend a bit of time in London, currently one of the most exciting food and drink capitals. This post summarizes part of a trip that took place in April.
The evening started with an early dinner at J. Sheekey Oyster Bar. Located steps away from the Leicester Square station on St. Martin’s court, the oyster bar is near its big brother J. Sheekey, a seafood institution which has been in business for more than 100 years. The oyster bar itself is a fairly small art deco room with an imposing marble horseshoe-shaped counter, and a décor of black and white photographs on wood paneled walls. Even though it opened just a few years ago, the restaurant as a certain timeless charm and a calm atmosphere.
The selection is extensive, from small plates of seafood to shellfish platters. I started with Gillardeau Speciales from France which were some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. They were crisp and full of delicious broth, similar to Fines de Claires but perhaps slightly more on the rich and savory side. Then came a bass ceviche with avocado and a plantain crisp, and razor clams with chorizo and hedgerow garlic, a type of wild garlic. Finally, the piece de resistance was a Devon Cock Crab. It takes a little bit of work to release all the sweet and succulent meat, but this gave me a chance to slow down and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon blanc from Touraine. As for dessert, the brown meat from the shell that I spread on a slice of baguette was rich like a delicious little seafood foie gras treat.
Afilador and Martinezita at La Bodega Negra
On my way to the Artesian bar at the Langham hotel, I was enticed to stop at a sex shop turned Mexican speakeasy, La Bodega Negra. The décor of this underground bar is an amusing mix of lucha libre paraphernalia crossed with somewhat daring imagery and accessories. As expected, the bar has a good selection of tequila and mezcal. The cocktails are for the most part tequila and mezcal twists on classics. I sampled an Afilador, a Corpse Reviver No. 2 variation with tequila and absinthe, and a Martinezita, a Martinez with reposado tequila mixed with sweet and dry vermouths, which was my favorite of the two.
Cocktail menu at the Artesian bar
Then it was time to go to the Artesian Bar. Unlike the American Bar at the Savoy, another world class hotel bar, the bar is immediately visible from the entrance and dominates the room. The décor, a mix of chinoiseries and mirrors, is elegant and fun to look at. The menu designed by Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale seemed a little gimmicky at first with its butterfly wheel, a painter’s palette providing various options from “fruity & refreshing” to “woody & deep”. But it serves a purposes as it accurately describes the type of drink you are about to enjoy.
I started with the Unfinished Business which is served on a large ice sphere and garnished with a slice of chorizo and a caper berry. The drink, a mixture of Woodford Reserve bourbon, Martini Rosso, galangal, and bitters, slowly ages on the counter of the bar in a large leather “pig”. This custom-made wineskin is an interesting alternative to the barrel-aged cocktails that have been popping up everywhere. The result is a slightly savory take on a Manhattan which is very aromatic and smooth, a phenomenal drink. The Secret & Lies was refreshing scotch-based cocktail with pomegranate and rose.
Secrets and Lies and Unfinished Business at the Artesian
I concluded with the Above & Beyond which is described as adventurous and came with a pillow floating above the glass. Eucalyptus air, once released from its plastic cloud, immediately transported me to a different place and surrounded the glass as I enjoyed my drink. Ron Zacapa rum (aged at high altitude, “above the clouds”) and sherry are the foundation of this cocktail, with coffee and banana accents providing depth and richness, and Fernet a lingering bitterness. What a great way to finish the evening.
References and Further Reading