One of my favourite parts of being involved in the London cocktail scene is the opportunity to have a night out, sample great drinks and excellent service; all in the name of research! Using that excuse, a select few of the Bartenders Inc staff headed out on a windy Thursday night to test our luck in two of the most exclusive cocktail clubs in London.
First up was Milk and Honey, a multiple award winning London institution. Located in the heart of Soho, one of the appealing aspects of the bar is that it has no street presence whatsoever to highlight the fact that it exists, just a doorbell on the wall and a handle. Once inside you are welcomed by superb staff and led through to one of a number of bars set over three floors. Every time I have been to Milk and Honey I am struck by the phenomenal consistency and quality of their drinks and service. For me it strikes the perfect blend of American service standards; friendly without being familiar and knowledgeable without making you feel ignorant. Highly recommended are the East 8 Hold Up (Vodka, Aperol, lime, pineapple and passion fruit) and the Fish House Punch (Cognac, Rum, peach, lemon and sugar).
A relative newcomer to the London bar scene was our next port of call. The Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC) is located in Chinatown and has rapidly gained a reputation for being incredibly difficult to gain entry to. This is exacerbated by not having any signage or point of reference to indicate it exists, beyond an artfully distressed front door. Despite having made a reservation and being smart and well presented we were turned away. I shamefully resorted to name dropping of the staff I know who work there. This worked a treat and, once inside, we were given a table and looked after impeccably. I must say the door policy confused me massively. It’s not a member’s bar and they take reservations online. However, based on my experience that counts for nothing once you arrive, and a snap judgement will be made as to whether you are worthy of admittance.
However, if you are fortunate enough to cross the threshold it seems as though the policy actually accentuates your enjoyment of the ECC. As Mark Twain said ‘There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable’. The cocktail list is tailored towards strong flavours and hits the right balance of punchy and interesting. I love having my assumptions challenged, and cigar infused cocktails and ingredients including fermented milk certainly piqued my curiousity. I would thoroughly recommend trying your luck to experience the distinct style and ambience of the ECC, but for my tastes the established and much cherished Milk and Honey remains the yardstick for speakeasy glamour in the Big Smoke.