London’s Best Negronis
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Long considered a cult rather than a classic cocktail as its heady, bitter burst of botanicals, gin, vermouth and Campari can be an acquired taste, the Negroni is definitely enjoying its heydey right now. Its trio of flavours are open to innovation, and the last few years have seen bartenders playfully tweaking the classic recipe to produce signature Negronis of their own.
The cocktail was allegedly born when the half-cut Count Camillo Negroni, sitting at the Casoni Bar in Florence in 1919 asked for a stiffer riff on an Americano cocktail. The patron had picked up a taste for strong liquor while working as a rodeo clown in the American Wild West and gave his name to the resulting concoction.
One caution for the uninitiated: Negroni fan Anthony Bourdain warns, ‘the drink will hit you like a freight train after three or four.’
Cut at 45 Park Lane
Now, this is how we like our negronis: treated with the full service of a bespoke, dedicated trolley wheeled to our table, fulsome theatre and an immaculate Italian to serve. They take their Negronis very seriously indeed in the somewhat dark and swanky surroundings of Cut at 45 Park Lane Hotel, the Dorchester Collection outpost where David McIntyre serves up his interpretation of Wolfgang Puck’s modern steakhouse.
Spirits aged in oak are, rightly, in our opinion, considered very much an enhancement rather than a mere pretension. Served in the smartest of cut glass, the aged Negroni served from a cute miniature oak barrel has deep vanilla notes making for a mellow libation with stunning depth and richness. Going a stage further, there’s a vintage Negroni made with classic ‘Antica Formula’ Carpano Vermouth and Gordon’s Gin from the 70s (we can’t help making a mental note to check the stash in our parents’ rarely used cabinet). The vintage is intriguing with a far more tannic, bitter complexity. They’re particular about their ice here too, flaunting the size and clarity of the single cube used. A luscious side order of tiny Wagyu beef sliders completes the treat.
Wolfgang Puck himself is visiting Cut at the end of June 2017 and the venue will be transformed into Spago for the occasion – one to bookmark.
Cut at 45 Park Lane, Mayfair, W1K 1PN
Never ones to rest on their laurels, Hoxton stalwart Merchant’s Tavern have an appealing riff on the Negroni called L’il Suze. It is made with French bright yellow aperitif Suze, a bitter from the aromatic gentian plant that has vegetal citrus notes more pomelo than lemon, plus the quaintly named Professor Cornelius Ableforths’ Bathtub Sloe Gin.
It is far smoother, more delicate and floral than a regular Negroni though still bracing enough for that Sunday morning kick-start and has a few hints of cherry and chocolate too. Lingering on the green leather banquettes with the Sunday papers, L’il Suze in hand is the perfect precursor to Neil Borthwick’s splendid Sunday roast. You never know, Angela Hartnett may just pop in to give her partner a helping hand in the open kitchen.
Merchant’s Tavern, 36 Charlotte Rd EC2A 3PG
Duck and Waffle
Of course, Duck & Waffle’s Negroni is going to be a little different, after ascending forty-one floors in the glass elevator we’ve come to expect something with a Willy Wonka element. They make their Woodland Negroni with ‘damp’ gin, Campari, sweet vermouth and Formica Rufa infusion (that’s a type of ant).
There’s more: the cocktail is ‘slow dripped through layers of nature’. We have no idea what that means either, though the bearded bartender mutters knowingly about filtering through soil and leaves, very Noma poetic. Plus, it is served at a jaunty angle on a wooden bowl of moss. For those with an appetite for more, there’s a Jaffa Cake flavoured Negroni made with chocolate and orange bitters, rather on the sweet side as expected. What really blows us away is the mightily impressive, dark and smoky, potent ristretto Negroni, made with leftover coffee grounds and the classic mix.
Duck and Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY
Angela Hartnett insists a Negroni is always on hand, hence the cocktail listing ‘Negroni and friends’. On a balmy summer evening, we liked the lighter, distinctly floral Fuoriclasse Negroni made up of Campari, Cocchi Torino, St Germain, Elderflower and Branca Mentha that still retained the requisite bitter complexity. Ordered with truffle arancini and salt cod fritters lounging on the leather banquettes, it’s a fine start to a bucolic Italian evening.
Cafe Murano, 36 Tavistock Street, WC2E 7PB
Bar Termini Centrale
Tony Conigliaro, arguably London’s foremost drinks guru is famous for his aged Negronis, which are slow cooked sous vide then bottled, mimicking the slow ageing of a cocktail: they’re vastly better balanced than many of the mixed to order Negronis. Though it feels civilised that they are served in tiny, stemmed glasses roughly the size of a sherry glass, don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety. Yes, they’re small and compellingly lovely, yet a drink where the only mixer is more alcohol is never going to be a soft option.
We’re especially taken with the Rosato (rose petal infused) and the brand new, fragrant Bergamot, presently only available at the new far larger Bar Termini, close to Oxford Circus, perfect for post-shopping snifters. The Classico Negroni bottle is temptingly available to take home too, though all the labels are so gorgeous it is tempting to nab the empties too. There is a greatly extended small plates menu extending beyond Italian charcuterie and cheese to panzerotti, like mini fried calzone. The styling is inspired by the old train station cafes of Italy and it’s much larger than the original Soho site, with room for 40 inside and 20 on the terrace.
Bar Termini Centrale, 31 Duke Street, W1U 1LG
Can a Negroni make one want to move home? The Peargroni at newcomer Wolf in vastly gentrified Stoke Newington did just that. This elixir is created with pear, cinnamon and vanilla infused rum (we’d drink the scent alone), Campari, vermouth and ginger syrup and is exceptionally soft, mellow, warm and beautifully balanced. For rum devotees, it is a Negroni game-changer.
The shelves at this funky Italian neighbourhood newcomer are stacked jewel-like with huge jars of fruit and herb-infused spirits, all prepared by charming Spanish bar manager Daniel Piniero. The basil infused gin Negroni made with Belsazar vermouth and Campari is beautifully refreshing, delicate yet with good complexity. Do plunder the food menu too – it is blissful. Morcilla croqueta with pancetta, parsley and garlic mayo brilliantly partner the Negronis as does burrata with broad beans, peas, courgettes and mint. A secondi of lamb shoulder with butterbeans, salsa verde, piattoni beans and chilli has such vibrancy and depth it has us muttering comparisons with The River Café.
Wolf, 110 Stoke Newington High Street, N16 7NY
Rhubarb at Sky Garden
It’s not just the lush gardens and the dizzying City view 36 floors up that are memorable at Sky Gardens, the Smoked Negroni makes a lasting impact. It is made with an intensely flavoured, peat-heavy Laphroaig whisky and artichoke vermouth (Cynar) and the whole Negroni blend is aged in a 3-litre wooden barrel for 2-3 months to intensify the flavour and add another layer of smoky, woodiness.
We can’t help but agree with Bar Manager Przemyslaw Marcin Chatys that such smoky, earthy notes work perfectly in Negronis, as they balance the bitterness of the blend and bring greater complexity to the classic aperitif. For the full splurge, eat all you can at the Sunday brunch buffet.
Sky Garden, 1 Sky Garden Walk, EC3M 8AF
Little by nature, big on attitude, this laid back Tooting bar has a whole list of infamous Negronis including the Sbagliato made with prosecco. This place is laid back, unpretentious and the prices are reasonable. What’s not to love?
Little Bar, 145 Mitcham Road, SW17 9PE
Chef Francesco Mazzei is a committed Negroni quaffer, so it was only fitting to name a special pour for him at his new Islington trattoria, all bare brick and blue furnishings with pride of place going to a striking wood-burning pizza oven (we couldn’t get enough of the Calabrese with ‘nduja and chilli).
We liked the full on red fruits tempered with herbals sip to this Negroni made with Tanqueray gin, Rosolio with bergamot notes, and Cocchi Americano served with three Calabrian olives, as a nod to Mazzei’s roots. Order with Cicchetti: both the calamari and the char-grilled peas in the pod work well with the bitter-sweetness of the Negroni, which we always feel works best with snacks with crunch.
Radici, 30 Almeida Street, N1 1AD
As befits this sophisticated bar with the largest collection of unusual rum in the Capital, Artesian at The Langham likes to serve its Negroni rum based. ‘Now You Don’t’ is a potent mix of rum, Mistille (an especially bitter-sweet herbaceous grape-based aperitif), classic Amaro and for added kick, the warming sweetness of port. Always keen to bring an unexpected twist to their drinks, the bitters are mixed and served with the classic twist of orange whilst the rum is served in a little jug on the side to add to taste.
It’s a very special, substantially aged Venezuelan rum made from sugar honey. It is an exhilarating, deep-toned cocktail with plenty of grassy notes, yet a decidedly grown-up bitter edge mellowed by the rum. Just for good measure, there’s a ‘Perpetual Motion’ Negroni too made with 10-year-old Facundo Eximo Barcardi, reputedly aged in barrels rocked by trains increasing the contact with the oak, hence a mini shaking barrel on the cocktail bar and a rocking glass to serve! A very different mix using both red and white Martini Reserva and artichoke bitters, it has a properly aged, tannic taste with plenty of bitter chocolate notes.
Artesian, The Langham, 1C Portland Place, W1B 1JA
Mr Lyan aka Ryan Chetiyawardana insists he is only a bartender, though is probably among the most influential and modest in the world right now. His team are all sleight of hand masters too: bottles are grabbed, spoons are stirred, glasses rattle and out come the drinks, all done from scratch, yet still a mystery.
His new bar is very stripped back with neon lights on bare bricks and that’s the idea for the ‘bitchin classics’ given the Mr Lyan shake up. His savoury retro take on a Negroni seems inspired by a Bullshot as it mixes beef tea with vermouths, Bombay Sapphire Gin and a mandarin spritz. The idea is to explore a kokumi sensation. The beef tea adds minerality and lifts the richness and bittersweet notes and gives huge finish to the drink whilst still picking up the citrus notes of the gin enhanced with the mandarin distillate sprayed over the top. A must for Negroni connoisseurs.
Super Lyan, 153 Hoxton Street, N1 6PJ
Who says a Negroni has to be drunk? Pastry chef Fraise Sauvage has transformed the cocktail into an ambrosial dessert in time for spring picnics. The dessert Negroni means layers of silken blood orange Negroni and white chocolate bavarois topped with a layer of boozy jelly and finished with a soft orange and almond cake, blood orange gel and fresh orange segments. It is clever, a little sensual and so damned delicious, we had to return for more.
Fraise Sauvage, Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road, SW1X 7XL