LAB cocktail bar, Soho

The London Academy of Bartenders (LAB) don’t make things easy for themselves, with a list of 100 drinks to master there is plenty of room for error, and yet the glasses we tried were immaculately executed and intriguingly tasty.

This little Soho cocktail den is found in the shadows of Old Compton Street, illuminated only by the neon glow of the nearby peep shows. Boasting a wealth of experience and a team of the very best mixologists, the fluid creations here are sometimes classic and sometimes experimental.

Seated near the bar we could see all the action as coloured bottles were swiped from the shelves and employed methodically in different glasses, ready for each customer. The most memorable drink from the evening was the Burnt Breakfast Martini, a genius concoction from the ‘Clever Stuff’ section of the menu. An elegant combination of Beefeater Gin, fresh lemon, orange marmalade and pink grapefruit, shaken with a splash of Aperol and egg white and given the final touch with a flamed vanilla brûlée top. It was a creative and pretty drink – an interesting contrast of tangy fruity martini with a delicious creamy top to soften the taste.

Keen to display the wackier skills he possessed, the barman mixed up a Leftfield for us. A quirky cocktail with Sipsmith Gin stirred with elderflower cordial, a splash of dry vermouth and dark balsamic vinegar then dressed with pickled onions. This was a slightly odd assortment of flavours, strong and aromatic with a kick from the vinegar and onions, which we couldn’t quite stomach.

LAB is an asset to the Soho bar scene… just as fun and fabulous as the surrounding camp hang-outs but with an array of expertly mixed cocktails to match.

The award-winning LAB team also offer cocktail classes for wannabe connoisseurs. Learn from the best of the industry how to make a variety of drinks using styles and methods from classic to contemporary.

More information here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 140

“Tea must be deserved; it is demanding. Every harvest has its own nature, its secrets.” Henri Mariage

As my Parisian weekend draws closer my taste for the finest French fancies is awakened. This trip I am looking forward to seeking out the cute food boutiques: Angelina for hot chocolate, Laduree for macaroons and Marriage Frères for tea.

The iconic Marriage Frères French Tea House has recently opened its first ever UK concession in Selfridges London. This beautiful brand has previously only been available to buy in France, and Selfridges now offers the only chance to purchase the tea in the UK. I couldn’t help a quick glance at the Sefridges colourful concession but am saving the proper look for the original shop in Paris, when hopefully I can taste the special tea. I also intend on visiting the Marriage Frères Museum, a homage to majesty of tea.

Stocking a vast array of unique French teas Marriage Frères are known for their loose tea blends and pretty packaging (I adored the neon pink and gold boxes!). Exquisite teas from all over the world can be found in the boutique, each chosen for their qualities and taste. At Selfridges London the one-of-a-kind counter also allows you to create your own bespoke loose tea blend and package it up as a the perfect gift or tea time treat.

Sophisticated, refined and luxurious Marriage Frères suits London’s sipping society down to a tea!

More information here.

The Mall Tavern, Notting Hill

Our visit to the Mall Tavern in Notting Hill began with a chaotic misunderstanding… it was a shame because I was instantly encouraged by the jolly atmosphere of this quirky, characterful pub. On a Thursday night the place was crowded and buzzing with punters enjoying an after work drink. The restaurant round the back was less full although lovers and friends soon filled the wooden benches.

This restaurant certainly breaks the conventions of the standard English local, offering dynamic, diverse dishes with a daring experimental twist. There was many a surprise during our visit. I had heard about the chef’s taster menu from a friend who raved about the genius of the recipes… and apparently this is what we would be receiving, there was no choice in the matter.

After some simple, strong and scrummy fruit martinis, it was time for the procession of food to begin… waiter after waitress after waiter arrived each with a tiny offering to add to our growing collection of dishes.

Starters reigned supreme… the best course by far. An array of eccentric little pots and plates each filled with a flavoursome treat… these included the finest ‘PGT Village’ smoked salmon, Funky beetroot, whipped goats’ cheese & hazelnut salad, Mushroom & Chestnut pate, Pierre’s Plethora of Posh Potted Pates & Pickles, fresh warm soda bread, Taramasalata, and Chicken liver mousse with pickled onions.

It was fireworks for the palate, my favourites being the pretty and punchy beetroot with creamy goats cheese and the delish Mushroom and Chestnut pate… I don’t even like mushrooms much but this was very good. The salmon and the chicken liver mousse also impressed us with healthy soda bread to dip and soak up the juices.

The retro menu is filled with familiar childhood classics like Chicken Kyiv and Macaroni cheese… comforting dishes that will please the public but also challenge their tastebuds. For main we were given the Kyiv and the Crispy duck egg, savoury bread pudding, radishes, turnips & tops. Perhaps not the dishes we would have chosen from the list, but nonetheless intriguing. I really enjoyed my Kyiv, though the portion was huge… a giant crispy ball of breadcrumbed chicken immaculately constructed and filled with hot garlicky butter, that I managed to squirt across the table, how predictable. Presented on a bed of crunchy vegetables and a potato hash brown it was a yummy meal. The duck egg was disappointing, very stodgy and less appealing visually too.

The puddings sounded exquisite but didn’t quite live up to the fancy names: we were given the Lemon meringue mess and the Arctic rolls. The Meringue dish was, as it stated on the menu, a mess… which was a shame as it was tasty, but the presentation was quite off-putting. The Arctic Rolls were incredibly imaginative, three flavours (vanilla, Fisherman’s Friend and pea) of homemade sponge and ice-cream. They were made with care and attention, but I just didn’t like the bizarre tastes, especially the pea. Glum faced, the manager asked if he could get us anything else, I jumped at the chance to try the hot Marshmallow pudding and he promptly retrieved one from the kitchen. This was much more promising, an array of chocolate, nuts and baby dollops of meringue (blow-torched at our table). Very sweet and very naughty but also great fun to share at the end of your meal.

The Mall Tavern gets top marks for invention and creativity… if you can, try to book the chef’s table in the kitchen. After meeting the mad head chef Jesse Dunford Wood (a Willy Wonka like character behind the stove), I am convinced the interactive dining experience in his kitchen would be exciting and delicious.

Visit the Mall Tavern website here for more information and to book.