Thursday, 18 June 2015


Can London ever be the European capital of cocktail? With Paris and Rome opening eccentric new bars, how is London competing as hidden Speakeasy and den bars replace  traditional pubs… here are six of the best!

Paris has its Experimental Cocktail Club which is also a ‘Cocktail Hotel.’ It prides itself on being difficult to find, reminiscent of a 1930s Speakeasy.  In Rome the Gerry Thomas Project is changing the way the way wine-loving Italians drink with emphasis on the rediscovery of forgotten Italian spirits –classic pre-Prohibition drinks with an Italian touch.


I set off in search of London’s secret drinking dens and found the city’s latest gem at Milroy’s whisky bar in Soho’s Greek Street. The first of its kind, it is the oldest whisky specialist and shop in London. (Even before Milroy brothers took over in 1964 the space had been used as a liquor shop)  Milroy’s recently re opened its doors and these days  features not just an atmospheric whisky bar and shop  but houses a secret basement cocktail bar, The Vault, down stairs hidden behind a bookcase. This lends itself to the Speakeasy atmosphere, and in the corner of the dark cavernous bar barman Natolino was concocting a brew using smoke, brightly coloured liquids and a magical flick of his wrist. It was the Smoking Gun, one of the bar’s signature cocktails. Natolino smoked a cocktail glass ready for a heady mix of straight corn whisky, Oloroso sherry, and Earl Grey and brown sugar.

Over on Regent Street the Club Café Royal may look like an old-school lounge bar but its cocktails are breaking the mould. Here bartender Tiziano was setting out his summer cocktail stall and clearing out the winter warmers designed to make us ignore drizzly grey London such as Forget Winter (Jamaica rum, pineapple, sage syrup and coconut) and bringing in long, fruity fragrant summer cocktails reminiscent of tennis and drinks on the lawn.

Under the supervision of bar manager Milos Popovic, both bars at the newly renovated Quaglino’s in St James’ serve a variety of innovative drinks which use new techniques and reference Quaglino’s 1930’s heritage with several champagne cocktails; the Prince of Wales  being a signature mix.

 A glass of blood red liquid topped with an oyster may not be your idea of a lunchtime tipple or an after work reviver. But the Bloody Mary Oyster Shooter is one of many new cocktails on offer at The Richmond near Hackney - also home to East London’s first and only raw bar serving several types of oysters and clams.


The cocktail bar at Craft London is a destination in its own right, with its outdoor terrace and quintessentially English view of the Greenwich Peninsula Garden’s meadow, orchard, smoke house and bee hives, as well as the Thames and Canary Wharf. Barman Adam Wyatt has put together a list that focuses on sourcing small batch British products like fruit liquors from Wiltshire and Cider Brandy from Julian Temperley.

Last of all I headed to Coya, London’s first Peruvian restaurant and bar in Piccadilly, where barrel aged pisco is used to create its signature pisco sour and classic cocktails. These are given a Latin American twist and include the “Negroni in Lima”, a pisco-based aged Negroni. The lemon and chilli Margarita looks weird, but tastes great




I must be one of the few British people who had never been to Lanzarote  and apart from a few days in Tenerife I must admit to being a Canary Islands novice.

Deciding to put  this right I set out on an expedition to Lanzarote and not wanting to join the lobster red -faced Brits in the South, I headed for the North of the island.

This is where one finds the sleepy traditional fishing villages and the old-world charm of Lanzarote, unspoilt by big hotels and high rise apartment blocks. The coast here is wild and wonderful with crashing waves that I discover make it a firm favourite with surfers from all over the world.

I booked into the Finca  de Arrieta,  described as an 'eco dream retreat'   which sounded just the job after a long grey London winter.   I found  a surprising almost dream -like village, tucked away in the hills above the pretty little town of Arrieta
The retreat occupies 30,000 square metres with great views out to sea on one side and the dramatic black volcanic mountains on the other.  It was set up and built from scratch on former farm land by husband and wife team Tila and Michelle Bradock, who have brought up their family here and still run the property.
There are 15 properties on the site, each one different and they range in style from luxury villa to a silk-lined Mongolian yurt, decked out with Bali-nese fabrics and furnishings. This is where I spent my time , but I could have opted for the eco tower, the eco garden cottage and eco luxury farmhouse or an eco luxury yurt suite.   I sensed there was an eco theme going on here, but whereas that term'eco friendly'  can conjure up images of basic, drab and cranky, nothing could be less true of the Finca de Arrietta, which oozes glamour and  chilled out chic.
The area is planted with palm trees and local plants and stones  create a wild  and windswept look that is totally in keeping with this part of the island. You can tell Michelle and Tila have built this place with love and passion, and added to it over the years to make somewhere that is unique in its look, ambience and sustainability.
The village is entirely off-grid,  solar-powered and run on sustainable lines without forgoing any creature comforts. As someone who is addicted to my IPad and smart phone, I was rather worried about how switched off I would need to be in the Finca, but I needn't have worried. There is free WiFi in the central 'chill-out' area and mobile phones work perfectly so I was able to send umpteen selfies of me sitting in my yurt drinking delicious Lanzarote cava.......
My yurt had its own well - equipped little kitchen and shower room, and the Honesty Shop was well -stocked with items for my fridge. Guests just write down what they have taken and settle up when they leave, a system which seems to work well. There is also an ordering service for fresh food and meals delivered to your door and once a week there is a barbeque night.
This is a charming place for families and it was lovely to see young children playing in their own adventure playground and collecting eggs from the resident hen for breakfast. There is also a donkey, Molly, and a giant chess set. Each property comes with it own Hybrid electric car, so guests can get out and about in an environmentally friendly way and discover the local attractions.
But I didn't need to get in the car to find the beach, I just followed the sound of the waves and after a leisurely  10 minute walk was kicking the pebbles.  There is a lovely little beach front café and tapas bar here, perfect for a casual lunch watching the surf.  A little further away in Arrietta there are numerous little restaurants and bars, although this is a simple, unsophisticated spot which doesn't buzz with nightlife and boozy tourists. Thank goodness
There is plenty to  see and do in the area, from the dramatic Jameos Del Agua caves - a 15 minute drive away - to the enchanting island of Graciosa, accessible by ferry. This is where I found birdlife galore, exhilarating coastal walks and the beautiful white and blue buildings made famous by Lanzarote's  architect Cesar Manrique.
Back at the Finca, I relax in the Saharan seating in the chill-out area and watch my fellow guests floating in the pool.  Eco doesn't come any better than this, I tweet ......